Analyze My Writing
Home About AMW Ideas Contact Privacy Terms

An elegant pause — or a pretentious comma?

Go Back
The official stance here at analyzemywriting.com on the above question is neutral. However, this is not to say we don't relish the controversy surrounding this often polarizing piece of punctuation. This page seeks to bring together, in no particular order except that in which we find them, as many quotes, articles, and other semicolon-related miscellany as we can find. If you'd like to add to this list, which we claim to be neither definitive nor exhaustive, please let us know here.

Quotes About Semicolons

[To T. E. Lawrence, on Seven Pillars of Wisdom:] You practically do not use semicolons at all. This is a symptom of mental defectiveness, probably induced by camp life.
-George Bernard Shaw
Sometimes you get a glimpse of a semicolon coming, a few lines further on, and it is like climbing a steep path through woods and seeing a wooden bench just at a bend in the road ahead, a place where you can expect to sit for a moment, catching your breath.
-Lewis Thomas
Do not use semicolons. They are transvestite hermaphrodites representing absolutely nothing. All they do is show you've been to college.
-Kurt Vonnegut
When Hemingway killed himself he put a period at the end of his life; old age is more like a semicolon.
-Kurt Vonnegut
If the semicolon is one of the neglected children in the family of punctuation marks these days, told to stay in its room and entertain itself, because mummy and daddy are busy, the apostrophe is the abused victim.
-John Humphrys
With educated people, I suppose, punctuation is a matter of rules; with me it is a matter of feeling. But I must say I have a great respect for the semicolon; it’s a very useful little chap.
-Abraham Lincoln
No semicolons.
-Cormac McCarthy
They are more powerful more imposing more pretentious than a comma but they are a comma all the same. They really have within them deeply within them fundamentally within them the comma nature.
-Gertrude Stein
I had decided about this time that the semicolon is an unnecessary stop and that I would write my next book without one.
-George Orwell
The semicolon is the enemy of action; it is the agent of reflection and meditation.
-from a 1943 editorial in The New York Times
"I think it's extremely useful, but I was taught to use it. Not many people use it much any more, do they? Should it be used more? I think so, yes. A semicolon is a partial pause, a different way of pausing, without using a full stop. I use it all the time. All those ideas of punctuation - they've all changed, and I think it's a pity, because they were used extremely successfully in the past.
-Beryl Bainbridge
I think it's a marvellous invention and I wouldn't do without it. Gertrude Stein always thought of commas - grammar of any kind - as subservient and we should never use it at all, which tells us a lot about her impenetrable style. I use them a lot, both in my fiction and in my journalism, because I think it makes an elegant pause. And if you use it well, if you understand it, I think it creates the right pause, the right possibility of a pause, in a sense, which in a world where everybody reads as fast as possible can be a very useful intervention, or hesitation.
-Jeanette Winterson
I like them - they are a three-quarter beat to the half and full beats of commas and full stops. Prose has its own musicality, and the more notation the better. I like dashes, double-dashes, comashes and double comashes just as much. The colon is an umlaut waiting to jump; the colon dash is teasingly precipitous.
-Will Self
I love a good semicolon, but this sounds like one of those Literature is Dead! stories that the New York Times likes to run. I've never heard from a reader confused by one of my semicolons, and I don't remember ever throwing a book aside for being semicolon-free.
-Jonathan Franzen
Go Back

Articles About Semicolons

And Now He's Dead: Semicolon; Punctuation Mark, by Noelle Hancock, Gawker
Semicolons; So Tricky, by Mary Norris, The New Yorker
Semicolons: A Love Story, By Ben Dolnick, The New York Times
The Enigmatic Semicolon, by Janet Byron Anderson, originally published in The Vocabula Review, Vol. 11, No. 7 (July 2009)
Has Modern Life Killed the Semicolon?, by Paul Collins, Slate Magazine
End of the Line?, by John Henley, The Guardian
What’s Punctuation, and Where Can I Get Some?, Alfresco Press
The Semicolon Con, Alfresco Press
Semicolons and Exclamation Points’ New Enemy in Punctuation Wars: Cormac McCarthy, by Foster Kamer, The Observer
Footnotes: On Vonnegut and the Semicolon, by Ryan Peverly, LitReactor
Celebrating the Semicolon in a Most Unlikely Location, by By Sam Roberts, The New York Times

Images

The World's Best Photos of Semicolons, at flickrhivemind.net

Other Semicolon Links

Ode To The Semicolon, by Tony Noland
Semicolon Graphic from theoatmeal.com
Semicolon board at analyzemywriting.com's Pinterest page.