I’ve been reading, for the first time, Eats, Shoots & Leaves, that puzzlingly popular little book on punctuation. I found it for two dollars at a local used book sale.

It’s very British, and I mean that in a good way. But I’ve found it a little disappointing so far. Lynne Truss’ rants on apostrophes and commas have been entertaining, but I don’t get worked up about those particular marks.

Now, though, it’s starting to get good. I’m in the middle of her chapter on colons and semicolons; I’m smiling all the way through.

I don’t remember when I first learned to use the semicolon—sometime in college, I think—but now it’s as much a part of my writing as the comma. The book’s quote of Lewis Thomas describes it well:


The semicolon tells you that there is still some question about the preceding full sentence; something needs to be added […] The period tells you that that is that; if you didn’t get all the meaning you wanted or expected, anyway you got all the writer intended to parcel out and now you have to move along. But with the semicolon there you get a pleasant feeling of expectancy; there is more to come; read on; it will get clearer.


Truss warns, though, that semicolons can be addicting. I’ve found that to be the case.

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