Monday, June 29, 2009

Semi-Colons: Friend or Foe

Recently got into an online argument with a dude who insisted I needed to use a semi colon in the following sentence:

The bridge was too high, the water, black and cold was too, too far below.


Grammatically, he may be correct. The above is a run on sentence. But I never care about such things.

My use of semi-colons has forever been altered by Kurt Vonnegut.

Here's his rule:
Here is a lesson in creative writing.

First rule: Do not use semicolons. They are transvestite hermaphrodites representing absolutely nothing. All they do is show you've been to college.

And I realise some of you may be having trouble deciding whether I am kidding or not. So from now on I will tell you when I'm kidding.

For instance, join the National Guard or the Marines and teach democracy. I'm kidding.

We are about to be attacked by al-Qaida. Wave flags if you have them. That always seems to scare them away. I'm kidding.

If you want to really hurt your parents, and you don't have the nerve to be gay, the least you can do is go into the arts. I'm not kidding. The arts are not a way to make a living. They are a very human way of making life more bearable. Practising an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven's sake. Sing in the shower. Dance to the radio. Tell stories. Write a poem to a friend, even a lousy poem. Do it as well as you possibly can. You will get an enormous reward. You will have created something.
I think that pretty much sums it up.

Thoughts?

4 comments:

Matt said...

Actually, grammatically he would be incorrect. Semicolons are used to separate two complete sentences of similar subject; this sentence would be a good example. So really, that guy is a douche.

Lady Glamis said...

Oh, heavens, semicolons are the bane of my existence. I NEVER know when to use them correctly, and I've been to college. Maybe I'll ask Nathan Bransford to do a post on semicolons... or I should just do one. I might learn something. I don't think that guy is right that you should NEVER use them. I think in certain places they can be very effective. Don't ask me what those are...

Angela said...

I think semicolons can be used in writing, but the problem is few know how to use them correctly so they sprinkle them all over the place. OR they put them in dialogue...not cool.

BA Boucher said...

I think that sometimes, especially in online writing communities you get a few people who hang on to the grammatical way to do things rather than substance.

I don't put anything polished online. Especially not on ficly.com. The stories there can be no longer than 1024 characters. Nothing I right there is going to be Shakespeare.

But sometimes you get these guys who have nothing else to say and bring up rules without looking at substance.

Vonnegut is one of America's literary treasures and therefore when he speaks about style I listen. Because he is a substantial writer. Strunk and White be damned.