Semicolons have been on mind lately, mostly because I’m reading To the Lighthouse and I’ve never seen an author use so many semicolons. I believe Woolf’s record is 6 in one sentence, but I could be wrong. Plus, I’m not finished with the book…she has plenty of time to set a new record (also, it should say something about the book that I even stop to count the semicolons…a cliffhanger it is not).
Evidently I’m not alone in my noticing Woolf’s love affair with the semicolon. I found this little note in wikipedia that amused me:
According to Lynne Truss, many non writers avoid the colon and semicolon for various reasons: “They are old-fashioned”, “They are middle-class”, “They are optional”, “They are mysteriously connected to pausing”, “They are dangerously addictive (vide Virginia Woolf)”, and “The difference between them is too negligible to be grasped by the brain of man”.
Also…interesting fact: In Arabic, the semicolon is called Fāṣila Manqūṭa (Arabic: فاصلة منقوطة) which means literally “a dotted comma”, and is written inverted ( ؛ ). I think the inverted look is quite flattering.
Woolf and inversions aside, semicolons have been on my mind for the past few months, ever since I ran across this quote from Kurt Vonnegut:
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 while I (and the chickens…behold!)
agree with his stance on not using semicolons, I have to disagree with the last part…I’ve been to college, and I’ll be damned if I can use a semicolon with confidence.