Friday, January 16, 2009

Semi-Colon Lament

I'm a fan of Kurt Vonnegut, although I haven't read much of his work recently. I stopped in the library at lunch and picked up Armageddon in Retrospect, which is a compilation of things he wrote that were never published. There is a delightful introduction by his son, Mark Vonnegut. In it he states, "If you can't learn about reading and writing from Kurt, maybe you should be doing something else." I tended to agree with that statement and the introduction put me in a mindset to start reading the rest of the book with my eye on word choice, rhythm, and structure.

This was all well and good and added to my delight at reading Vonnegut again. Until I read this line:

"My advice to writers just starting out? Don't use semi-colons. They are transvestite hermaphrodites, representing exactly nothing. All they do is suggest you might have gone to college."

Personally? I love semicolons; I think they add a bit of poetry to my prose. And yes, I'm probably showing off when I use them. So what?


I'm all about simplicity and brevity. I want to be as efficient with words as possible...except when I don't. And then I want to use semi-colons.

Am I being a baby about this? Are semi-colons pretentious? I want you to be honest with me.


  1. No, absolutely not! They are little signposts to make the navigation through your thoughts easier and clearer.

    To anyone who says semi's are pretentious, ask them if yield signs or yellow lights at an intersection are pretentious.


    And don't me going on people who think colons are pretentious!

  2. I thought I would check back and give you a serious answer (gasp!)

    Here at Cisco/Linksys, when we write our technical documentation, we have to aim for approximately 5th grade reading level. That makes localization/translation into other languages much easier. So I have almost forgotten how to use a lot of different punctuation outside of period and comma!

  3. You love semi-colons and semi-colons love you. Knock yourself out, babe!

    I did the meme. Blogger has been really slow for me today. Sorry for the delay.

  4. Keep using them; they probably scared poor Kurt.

  5. I use them but I'm also college-educated English person, so I can't really tell if it's pretentious or not; it's just what I do. And I agree with SD, they're like cute little winks. ;)

  6. are you.... are you ARGUING with KV??

    Maybe you are... Hi ho.

  7. When you need a semicolon, you need a semicolon. I think maybe he never learned how to use them.

  8. I think Vonnegut would be horrified to be considered the authority on anything. Fuck him. Use your semicolons. He would've wanted it that way.

  9. Thanks for all your support. It's one of the first times I've read a writer (whom I love) write about writing and I've seriously disagreed with what he had to say.

    You're right, Vikki. A pedestal is no place for Vonnegut.

  10. I am no fan of them and even worse, Microsoft Word's grammar check makes me use them, whether it is grammatically called for or not.