Armloads of Semicolons

I have been enjoying the Draft series of online New York Times essays that focus on the art and craft of writing. I highly recommend the recently posted “Semicolons: A Love Story.” The author, Ben Dolnick, beautifully captures (and demonstrates) the quirky role of the semicolon in stringing together the sometimes disparate elements of a long, complex sentence. Here is a brief snippet, but it gives you an idea of the tone of the essay:

To use a semicolon properly can be an act of faith. It’s a way of saying to the reader, who is already holding one bag of groceries, here, I know it’s a lot, but can you take another? And then (in the case of William James) another? And another? And one more? Which sounds, of course, dreadful, and like just the sort of discourtesy a writer ought strenuously to avoid. But the truth is that there can be something wonderful in being festooned in carefully balanced bags; there’s a kind of exquisite tension, a feeling of delicious responsibility, in being so loaded up that you seem to have half a grocery store suspended from your body.

 

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