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The semi-colon: sex in punctuation form

In Process on February 28, 2009 at 11:10 am

Ladies and gentlemen, pray be upstanding – and then recumbent in sheer, panting orgasmic lust – for the semi-colon: the most misunderstood, underused and under-appreciated ‘member’ (cough) of the punctuation canon. Forget your full stop, cast aside your comma and shove your colon up your ass, because it is time for us to examine why the semi-colon should be the recipient of both our heartfelt hosannas and our wanton, salivating desire.

First, the semi-colon swaggers with braggadocio because of who it is and because of the constituent parts it flaunts. It says “Hey, yeah, you’ve got your overused commas and you’ve got your dull and dreary full stops. But look at me. Look at this. I’ve got a comma and a full stop – at the same time. And I’m doing things that no other punctuation can do. Kneel and worship, baby. Get on your knees. And while you’re down there, suck my comma”.

For some reason, at this point I’m imagining the semi-colon speaking like Samuel L Jackson, and wearing a spangly jumpsuit with its chest hair on display. Yes, it should look completely ridiculous – and if, say, even someone as drop-dead cool as Johnny Depp were wearing it, it would. But Johnny Depp is more a question mark kind of guy, with a permanently arched right eyebrow of enquiry. And right now, you’re only having sinfully erotic thoughts about splitting your sentence with a semi-colon. This is no time for questions. Question marks can wait until the end (of the sentence). Right now, male or female, you would definitely do him.

Second, even the way the semi-colon is formed drips with raw animal passion. No matter how you interpret its appearance, the result is salacious. There’s the full stop on top of the comma, and the comma is completely subjugated. Held down and holding its breath. Or you might prefer to look at it in terms of the comma being underneath, doing unspeakable things to the underside of the full stop whilst it rides out that coital pause, that silent pre-orgasmic gasp in the sentence. The comma is thrusting the full stop upwards into a position where it feels new, different, alive.

Are you still with me? Or are you in need of a lie-down? I suggest that you fan yourself and have a sip of cooling water to moisten your dry yet expectant mouth, because the best is yet to come. As it were.

Third, and most importantly, the semi-colon is the chosen tool of the writer who is in control, who is at ease with their literary skill. The semi-colon wielding writer knows that the line they’re crafting contains independent clauses which don’t warrant separating into separate sentences, yet would appear ungainly if linked by a co-ordinating conjunction. So semi-colon it is, and semi-colon it must be. And for those other independent clauses that require a transitional phrase or a conjunctive adverb, once again only the semi-colon will suffice. Any writer who gets a peculiar frisson of punctuation-related pleasure at such moments lives by these rules, and has them written through their heart like a secret code.

There are pretenders, of course. Beware of those who want to get their hands on the semi-colon merely for the purposes of impressing the opposite sex. They take it, use it and, yes, abuse it by placing it somewhere that its lesser cousin, the humble colon, should rightfully appear. I’m sure we’ve all witnessed examples of this, but it will never fool us, the true semi-colon believers.

A toast, then, to the semi-colon. Use it today and – whilst your life may not instantly improve – you too will get your chance to savour the illicit thrill that only occurs with the punctuation equivalent of sliding your hand into Samuel L Jackson’s spangly pants.

Vaughan Simons is the nominal Editor of Writers’ Bloc, and has torrid affairs with punctuation at regular intervals. He writes online under the increasingly pointless pseudonym of An Unreliable Witness, is a contributor to PIFFLE – where poetry doesn’t so often indulge in lust-filled, saliva-swapping clinches with semi-colons – and throws his other words and web detritus on Unreliably Witnessed. He’s also appeared in The Corduroy Mtn.

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  1. the semi colon is the dan quayle of writing

  2. this was the first time i’ve ever been aroused by punctuation.

    thanks vaughan

  3. A series on punctuation is needed.

  4. Thom – Erm, utterly useless and cannot be understood?

    xtx – I’m worried that you might pass out if I get onto the comma.

    Lore – What a good idea.

  5. well, i am pretty much useless, dan quayle gets a bad rap but he really wasn’t that bad, perhaps like the semi-colon, not respected enough.

  6. I am so proud of you right now. You have learned so much from your uncouth, oversexed American friend. Everything in the world can be explained in terms of sex. Everything.

    Good job. Though I don’t really think Mr Jackson would approve of spangly pants.

  7. Ani – It’s true. Apparently exclamation marks have phallic overtones. I’d never seen it until now. I have been blind, obviously.

  8. I use the semi-colon to wink

  9. i abuse the semi-colon. *sigh*

  10. I hear a so called “point d’ironie”… (Unicode U+2E2E). It’s a good idea, yes, but it’s yours ;)

  11. even drunk, i like the semi-colon

  12. i like the layout of your site a lot. you’re all artistic and shit.

  13. The proper use of the semi-colon is under-rated as a seduction technique; it’s a matter of instinct as well as timing and ought to (ahem) come as naturally as….well, let’s say breathing.

  14. ‽ i like the interrobang quite a lot ‽
    ∵ also the because sign ∵

    jonathan safran foer wrote a nice story called ‘a primer for the punctuation of heart disease’ and it’s pretty good i think and i like that story too

  15. fucking awesome article. only wish i was so eloquent. at least i can use a semi-colon decently.

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