And Now He's Dead: Semicolon; Punctuation Mark

The Semicolon died this week at the age of 417 from complications of irrelevancy and misuse. Semicolon was born in England in 1591 to Ben Jonson, the first notable writer to use them "systematically." The mark of punctuation dedicated its career to connecting independent clauses and indicating a closer relationship between the clauses than a period does. But mostly it just confused the shit out of English students everywhere.

Well, the semi isn't technically dead yet but there's a healthy debate going on speculating that its days are numbered. And as any B-list celebrity can attest, when people start asking whether your career is dead, it already is. So that's the angle we're going with.

The Guardian offers a rather startlingly in-depth analysis of the viability of the semicolon, including "for" and "against" arguments from notable writers. It should come as no surprise that Jonathan Franzen takes an unabashedly pro-semicolon stance.

"I love a good semicolon, but this sounds like one of those Literature is Dead! Stories that The New York Times likes to run," he says. "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."

The late Kurt Vonnegut, meanwhile, takes the subtle approach and compares semicolons to cross-dressing she-males: "If you really want to hurt your parents, and you don't have the nerve to be a homosexual, the least you can do is go into the arts. But do not use semicolons," he has cautioned. "They are transvestite hermaphrodites, standing for absolutely nothing. All they do is show you've been to college."

Semicolon is survived by colon, parenthesis and em dash. In lieu of flowers, please send anecdotes of times you have been confused by a semicolon to Farrar, Straus and Giroux, care of Jonathan Franzen.