I can’t find it in me to use semi-colons. I know they’re useful, in theory. But since when has effective writing been about theory?
With my thirteenth book about to appear, I can honestly say I have rarely felt the need for that little key just to the right of the L.
Yes, I see you at the back, waving your arm in the air and bursting to tell me that General Practice Cases at a Glance is full of them. But I didn’t put them there. Or, as the copy-editor would have expressed it, “I know; I did not, however, put them there.” They crept in, aided and abetted by someone who knows more than I do about proper punctuation.
Here’s what the University of Oxford Style Guide says:
Each could stand alone as a grammatically complete sentence? Then take off those trainer wheels and let it.
A fellow author and I were discussing punctuation recently. We’d already exhausted the usual writerly topics such as our word count for the day, and which wine bar was nearest. I think I rashly mentioned semi-colons. Her own editor, like many others, has a fondness for these little squiggles. So, when I admitted to my friend that I try to avoid them at all costs, she asked, “What do you use instead? Colons?”
I nearly dropped my glass of Merlot. I use full stops. Period.
I reckon that, over the years, avoiding semi-colons has saved me huge amounts of ink. The claim may be a bit infantile, rather like the school friend who once calculated that bikini briefs saved her several minutes a week, as compared with wearing full knickers. But she made us laugh.
Why use a punctuation mark that can’t decide if it’s a comma or a full stop? It’s a tasteless hybrid. Unlike mules and hybrid vehicles, however, this one breeds. Give a couple of them house room in your manuscript and you’ll soon have them on every page.
Militant semi-colon enthusiasts can get carried away, so I’m reaching for my flak jacket to say I’ve got very few uses for semi-colons. Here’s one.
Project Semicolon is another. It’s based on the premise that a semi-colon is used when an author could have ended a sentence but chose not to. As Project Semicolon says, “You are the author and the sentence is your life.”
It’s a global non-profit movement for those who are struggling with mental illness, suicide, addiction and self-injury. You may well have seen semi-colon tattoos, which echo the theme.
There are many moving testimonies on the Project Semicolon blog. Just don’t get too hung up about the grammar.
At long last, Hampstead Fever breaks out on Thursday. And the cover’s pretty.
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