The Semicolon

Now who is going to tell Mr. Dickens that perhaps the most powerful sentences in English literature is a run on?

Typewriter: It’s the longest word that you can spell using just the top line on the QWERTY keyboard. I’m going from memory here (just like everything else I write on here). In this case I can’t blame it on a fuzzy recollection of an event that I experienced back when the internet sounded like a Looney Tunes factory and gas was a quarter; I’m just too lazy and rushed for time to do any research on this topic. The QWERTY keyboard was developed so that the mechanical keyboards of the 19th century wouldn’t jam. The design worked, so it stuck. I mean we are still using the QWERTY keyboard almost a century and a half later even though the risk of jamming is no longer an obstacle. What is interesting to me when using the QWERTY keyboard that your right pinky rests on the semi colon: the most underused punctuation mark.

When I read one of my favorite 19th Century English authors, Charles Dickens, I’m not surprised that the semicolon made it on the main line of the keyboard back then, if in fact the key jamming prevention arrangement is true. I’ve always been fascinated by the Mr. Dickens’ mastery of the English language, and his paragraph long sentences made possible by the semicolon.

Even so, the opening paragraph of A Tale Of Two Cities is a single sentence that does not contain a single semicolon.

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way-in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.

A Tale Of Two Cities, Charles Dickens

Now who is going to tell Mr. Dickens that perhaps the most powerful sentences in English literature is a run on?

If you were impressed by Charles Dickens’ sentences, try reading one from the Apostle Paul: the undisputed heavyweight champion of the semicolon. I’m sure he’d be flattered at that title, but since he wrote in ancient Greek, which has no punctuation, he wouldn’t know what a semicolon was. Jacobean translators commissioned by King James had to do their best framing the complete thoughts of one of the greatest minds in history.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ: According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love: Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the Beloved.

In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, accord to the riches of his grace; Wherein he hath abounded toward us in all wisdom and prudence; Having made known unto us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he hath purposed in himself: That in the dispensation of the fulness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; eve in him: In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will: That we should be to the praise of his glory, who first trusted in Christ.

In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: In whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise, Which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of his glory.

Ephesians 1:3-14, Apostle Paul

My wife has nearly given up hope editing my blog. “I know you like long sentences, but you really could just put periods instead of commas.” She’s right. I do like long sentences. I was taught in elementary school that a sentence is a complete thought. I was always a little puzzled when my teachers got onto me about run on sentences when I was trying to put a complete thought into words. Perhaps we should have spent more time learning about semicolons and less time learning about Johnny Appleseed for the fourth year in a row.

There was one English teacher that tried to help me with my run on sentences; she wanted me to use transition words like, but, therefore; I didn’t want to. She also told me to not end sentences with a prepositions. What she never mentioned was semicolons. (Perhaps she did and I was drawing pictures of guitars) Now I must be forthright with you: I was not a, shall we say, motivated student; but I don’t remember any teacher spending much time teaching about semicolons; and I may be using them wrong; but this is all one thought, and it is my blog.

In short: I’d like to see more semicolons from all of you. Which is a tall order these days with the abbreviated language of text messaging. Rather than express our thoughts and feelings through spelling, we’ve almost reverted back to hieroglyphics with emojis.

I believe that people are capable of having, writing, reading, and comprehending complex and profound complete thoughts. Think big, and don’t let anyone tell you to think smaller.

2 thoughts on “The Semicolon”

  1. Zane, I love your writing no matter if you use run on sentences or not (so do I) or if you specialize in the semicolon; the least used punctuation. Keep writing. Also, glad I wasn’t your English teacher because you were a GREAT student in a subject you may have liked better.

    Like

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