Recently there has been an uptick in talk about semicolons. Witness:

arabic semicolon

What does this signify? I’m not sure. Could it be another sign of the trend to the literate class becoming a cultural elite, eager to differentiate itself from the hoi polloi?

Well, maybe that’s reading too much into what might just be a random flare-up of semi-colonitis. In any case, I like this exchange from the Colbert link above.

  • Tulugaq: Kurt Vonnegut’s take on it was a little less warlike and more of a mandate: “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.” Me, I like the poor semicolon and the colon alike, so I guess I just have to be a conscientious objector. Sorry, Steve Colbert.
  • The Ridger, FCD: How can a hermaphrodite be a transvestite? Do they dress like asexuals?

For anyone with market aspirations in today’s publishing climate, Vonnegut’s advice remains sound. But what would Flaubert be like without the semicolon as the hinge on which his crafty sentences swing?


Shown: Arabic semicolon from


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  1. I like semicolons; they join semi-distinct units of thought.

  2. The NY Times is even getting in to the act:

    The article is good; the correction at the end of the article: priceless. They actually mis-punctuated the title of a book on punctuation.

  3. That is indeed priceless, since the significance of that comma is the fundamental concept behind the title and the content of the book.