LATELY — 13 November 1999

Great Punctuation Marks of North Dakota

Great Punctuation Marks of North Dakota
No. 3: The Semi-Colon

Appearance: The semi-colon is composed of two disjoint shapes: (1) a tapered, backward-curving arc beginning at the baseline, and extending a short distance below it, and (2) a solid dot situated directly above the aforementioned arc. The semi-colon has a highly distinctive physical form, looking something like a cross between the comma and the colon.

Habitat: Unlike the comma and the period, the semi-colon (like its close relative the colon) is relatively rare and is becoming more so. Though frequently sighted in the writings of some authors and poets (notably Shakespeare), in some settings the semi-colon is now practically extinct. In the last five years, for example, the semi-colon has been sighted only seven times within Chinese Take-Away menus, and just thirteen times within Police accident reports.

Diet: The semi-colon is partial to pairs of grammatically complete sentences that are closely related in sense, but its main love is coordinate conjunctions. Semi-colons have also been observed feeding on elements of a series, especially those rejected by the comma.

Predators: The semi-colon has no natural predators.