The Elusive Semicolon

Of all the var­i­ous punc­tu­a­tion marks, the semi­colon is the most elu­sive. One instinc­tive­ly knows when to use the peri­od. One has no doubts what to use when one is ter­ri­bly excit­ed! When seri­ous­ly in doubt, does one hes­i­tate to ask a ques­tion? But when­ev­er one strings mul­ti­ple things togeth­er, the com­ma often seems to do the job, leav­ing the semi­colon aside. Large­ly unused, often ignored, the semi­colon has an iden­ti­ty cri­sis and is in dan­ger of becom­ing extinct.

The com­ma mean­while, evolves in its dom­i­nance, con­quer­ing every­thing in its path, threat­en­ing to  oblit­er­ate the semi­colon out of exis­tence.

But, the semi­colon con­tin­ues to sur­vive a frag­ile exis­tence. When a thought process begins from a cer­tain idea A as the start, goes through an inter­me­di­ary step B, leads to a con­clu­sion C, the com­ma does the job in giv­ing your read­er the nec­es­sary pause to fol­low you. But a the­o­rem is always fol­lowed by its corol­lary; that’s when the semi­colon comes into the pic­ture.

The com­ma leads the read­er to take the next step, the semi­colon is where you let the read­er take a breath and then take the next step. You do not let him stop; doing so neces­si­tates a peri­od.

The com­ma, though dom­i­nant, is often depen­dent. It needs con­junc­tions, whether they are are, and, but, or or; the semi­colon, on the oth­er hand, is inde­pen­dent. The grow­ing dom­i­nance of the com­ma per­haps tells us how we pre­fer the props of con­junc­tions to pro­pel the read­er breath­less­ly for­ward; while the semi­colon becomes an elu­sive fig­ure lan­guish­ing in aca­d­e­m­ic obscu­ri­ty.

The com­ma with its con­junc­tions is banal; the semi­colon irre­place­able. Sub­sti­tute a semi­colon with a com­ma and a con­junc­tion and the sen­tence becomes insipid; divorce the two claus­es with a peri­od and the idea los­es its inte­gral char­ac­ter.

The semi­colon is a bond like no oth­er. It does not divide and con­quer like the peri­od, nor does it mean­ing­less­ly try to assim­i­late asym­me­try via con­junc­tions. The semi­colon respects indi­vid­u­al­i­ty; it mere­ly seeks to con­nect. It is the elu­sive glue that bonds ideas like friends.

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