Gething: Thank you for agreeing to this interview.
Semicolon: The pleasure’s all mine; thank you for having me.
Gething: My interest is in the controversy you have stirred in the literary world.
Semicolon: I’ve done no such thing; those who don’t use me seem to be causing all the fuss.
Gething: That’s my point. Many modern writers, in particular Cormac McCarthy in his interview with Oprah, have called for your extinction. What did you do to create such a virulent reaction?
Semicolon: Ask Mr. McCarthy; to my knowledge I did nothing.
Gething: But you must have done something. He’s not calling for the elimination of the period or the question mark, or even the colon in certain instances.
Semicolon: No, he seems to have targeted me in particular…and the exclamation mark; I don’t know what we did to deserve such enmity. My purpose seems quite clear—to connect two or more independent clauses more closely than ones separated by a period. I believe there’s still a place for that in the world.
Gething: You do have some supporters, only—let’s be honest—not too many users today.
Semicolon: Not true! A very lucid writer recently defended me in the New York Times.
Gething: But he also quoted Vonnegut who said that semicolons are “transvestite hermaphrodites representing absolutely nothing.”
Semicolon: That’s a gross exaggeration. Henry James adored me; incidentally, many consider him the paradigm of subtlety; he was certainly more subtle than that Vonnegut fellow.
Gething: Yes, but there is a modern sentiment that long sentences connected by semicolons obscure rather than make thoughts clearer. I sometimes feel that way about Henry James. Modern writers—journalists, novelists, poets—they tend to shun you.
Semicolon: Well, what do you expect from poets?
Gething: What do you mean?
Semicolon: They are barbarians; they hardly use any punctuation at all.
Gething: Doesn’t that suggest that meaning can be received without punctuation? Its absence might even create interesting double meanings.
Semicolon: You mean vagueness and ambiguity. Perhaps that’s modern, too.
Gething: McCarthy says, if you write clearly you don’t need more than a few punctuation marks.
Semicolon: Then why use any at all? Why not write so clearly that periods and commas can be avoided as well? Isn’t punctuation simply a convention to help the reader comprehend the writer’s meaning? What if you presented these words without punctuation?
Gething: I don’t know. Let’s see:
Then why use any at all Why not write so clearly that periods and commas can be avoided as well Isnt punctuation simply a convention to help the reader comprehend the writers meaning What if you presented these words without punctuation
A few awkward spots but I might get used to it with practice.
Semicolon: I suppose you’ll be calling for the elimination of capital letters next.
Gething: You sound bitter.
Semicolon: I am bitter. I feel angry; I feel hurt; I feel betrayed. In speech we use pauses and intonation to convey meaning. Why can’t we rely on perfectly acceptable conventions of punctuation, including the semicolon, for the printed word?
Gething: You make a good case, but it seems convention is dictated by usage not by argument. I fear for your longevity.
Gething: You know, my sister quit dating a guy who used semicolons; she said he never knew when to stop.
Gething: Just trying to make you feel better.
Semicolon: Then start by using me more; only please, don’t abuse me!