Archive for April, 2008

This article from Ragan Communications, written by Michael Sebastian, provides a great explanation on the relevance of semicolons…just in case you were asking yourself, “How the f… do I know if this sentence requires a semicolon for punctuation?”

Enjoy the detailed explanation; learn from it as well.

The semicolon is the only form of punctuation with an organized fan club-The Semicolon Appreciation Society. It might also be the most misunderstood of all punctuation marks.

Some writers overuse it; less confident writers avoid it for fear of misuse. And it is a peculiar looking punctuation: a period stacked atop a comma. In the realm of electronic communication it has literally become a wink.

For all the trouble it causes, should we just drop the semicolon?

No way. A sentence rife with commas could put a semicolon to good use; or else-in what is considered by some writers its most elegant use-two sentences need it for the pause it allows instead of the harsh break of a period.

But where does this winking punctuation come from? When is it used in a sentence? And why, in this online world of lax punctuation, should we even care?

How and why it’s used-correctly

Writers and editors espouse varying opinions of the semicolon. Some love it; others find it useful and some consider it pretentious. Regardless of opinion, every writer should know its purpose.

“There are two main functions of the semicolon that a comma or colon cannot serve: to separate two independent clauses-essentially two ideas that could be two separate sentences-and to make items in a series readable,” explained Julie DeSilva, managing director of ProofReadNow.com.

DeSilva provided this example for making lists more palatable with a semicolon: “In her report she listed the populations of San Francisco, San Jose and Los Angeles, California; and Houston, Dallas and Fort Worth, Texas.”

It gets trickier when the semicolon is used to separate two independent clauses, although for writers like IABC President Julie Freeman this is its most exciting purpose.

She offered this example: “Recycle your bottles and cans; it is the right thing to do.” Why not drop a period between “cans” and “it”? She asked. Grammatically that choice is also correct.

“Using the semicolon shows the thoughts are closely related and helps to vary the sentence structure,” she explained. “Why not say ‘Recycle your bottles and cans because it is the right thing to do?’ (Also, grammatically correct.) [Because] using the semicolon gives the sentence a different rhythm and gives each thought more emphasis.”

It gives greater emphasis to each clause and creates a pause-not a break like a period, but a moment to take stock of what the sentence hopes to convey.

“In this world of logorrhea, with its run-on sentences and endless parenthetical statements, the semicolon provides a much needed pause; without it, we would be stranded in a world without reflection,” corporate communicator Ron Shewchuk explained.

The devil’s advocate

There are some writers who dislike the semicolon and find it pretentious-chief among them Kurt Vonnegut.

“All they show is you’ve been to college,” he famously wrote.

Vonnegut even dubbed the semicolon a “transvestite hermaphrodite,” which isn’t completely ridiculous considering its appearance as a colon that’s part period, part comma.

Undoubtedly avoid the semicolon if you’re unsure of its accuracy, but if you’re certain a semicolon is needed then don’t refrain for Vonnegut’s reason.

One corporate communicator offered practical caution. She suggested the semicolon isn’t necessary in business writing because it muddies the message. “For the sake of clarity and ease of reading, it’s better to have two sentences, each punctuated with a period.”

Get  it … wink, wink

The semicolon might be peculiar-perhaps unnecessary-but once mastered a communicator will likely find it essential for good writing.

In one way the semicolon cleans up a list; in another it gives readers a wink that subtly announces two independent thoughts are somehow closely related.

It also provides a moment to pause and reflect.

“Let’s look for opportunities to keep pausing; it’s a small pleasure for the reader,” Shewchuk said, “and a balm for the writer’s soul.


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Spring. After waiting for weeks for its arrival, Spring blew into town this week. Finally. As noted previously, Minnesota experienced its first snowfall of the season on Dec. 1, 2007. Snow has blanketed the ground ever since. As I check the calendar it is now April 4 and the snow is gone from the ground – at last (except where it was piled up from plows and shoveling).

With Spring’s long-awaited arrival, outdoor activities become the rage among Minnesotans. Oh sure, there are many die hards who run outdoors all year long – even when the air temperature reaches negative degrees and the windchill makes it feel like double digits in the negative. But now people are out there with smiles on their faces. The long winter is over.



I volunteer my time to the Nature Valley Grand Prix, helping with media relations and PR to generate more awareness about the pro bike race. I’ve never raced, but I do bike (part of the tri thing I’m such a novice at). The pro teams that swing through Minnesota each June for the five-day, six-stage Nature Valley Grand Prix are amazing to watch. Motivating even. What’s most amazing are the women on the various teams that race in St. Paul, Cannon Falls, Minneapolis, Mankato, and finally, in Stillwater.

The women riders are a thing to behold. Many of them put in just as much time as the pro men riders, but they also have full-time jobs, children and a variety of other responsibilities beyond the bike and the week-long or weekend races they compete in. They race, crash, bleed, and tell their stories just as adeptly as any male rider – and their passion shows up tenfold in their eyes and their faces as they line up at the start line for each event.

If you haven’t seen a pro race, either mens or womens, I encourage you to look up the USA Cycling event closest to your hometown and make the journey to watch it live. It’s unlike any sport – and TV viewing (aka the Tour de France on Versus) just doesn’t do the race justice.


Remember your first haircut?

As a kid, my parents were close friends with a very nice couple, Ernie and Evelyn. Ernie was a barber and he had the coolest set up in his basement in Spencer, Iowa (my hometown). Ernie’s basement came complete with pool table, color TV and a small alcove/room that included a barber chair, sink and all the hardware needed to get a haircut.

On Friday or Saturday nights from time to time, our family would go to Ernie and Evelyn’s, have a little dinner and while the women talked in the kitchen, the guys would adjourn to the basement for a) haircuts and b) a game or two of pool. This was considered high living for a kid of five or six years old. My dad and Ernie would talk about adult stuff. Sometimes they would (gasp) drink a beer. On one particularly interesting evening, Ernie attached a toupee to my Dad (who was naturally balding). We all got a major chuckle over that one!

Ernie always took great care in cutting hair. He also owned a salon downtown and he ran a good business serving many loyal customers. He was ahead of his time in many areas, including his ride. Yes, Ernie drove a Subaru back in the ’70s, which drew plenty of strange looks from the Chrysler/Ford/Chevy owners in town. But he didn’t care and his trend-setting days continued throughout his life. Well into his 80s, Ernie passed away in 2007. I trust he’s now perched in one of the most beautiful and comfiest of barber chairs available in Heaven.


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