The Millions

On Semicolons and the Rules of Writing

1.
Kurt Vonnegut’s caution against the use of semicolons is one of the most famous and canonical pieces of writing advice, an admonition that has become, so to speak, one of The Rules. More on these rules later, but first the infamous quote in question: “Here is a lesson in creative writing. First rule: Do not use semicolons. They are transvestite hermaphrodites representing absolutely nothing. All they do is show you’ve been to college.”

To begin with the lowest-hanging fruit here—fruit that is actually scattered rotting on the ground—the “transvestite hermaphrodite” bit has not aged well. The quote also, it seems, may have been taken out of context, as it is followed by several more sentences of puzzlingly offensive facetiousness, discussed here.

That said, I also have no idea what it means. My best guess is that he means semicolons perform no function that could not be performed by other punctuation, namely commas and periods. This obviously isn’t true—semicolons, like most punctuation, increase the range of tone and inflection at a writer’s disposal. Inasmuch that you would like everyone to write like him.

Citiți o mostră, înregistrați-vă pentru a citi în continuare.

Mai multe de la The Millions

The Millions1 min citite
David Sedaris Is Not Loving His Early Work
The essayist discusses lazy words, pandemic fashion, and how going on tour changed his writing style. The post David Sedaris Is Not Loving His Early Work appeared first on The Millions.
The Millions1 min citite
Claire Messud On The Value Of An Ordinary Life
The author discusses social media, finding hope in art, and her new essay collection, Kant's Little Prussian Head and Other Reasons Why I Write. The post Claire Messud on the Value of an Ordinary Life appeared first on The Millions.
The Millions4 min citite
The Stories We Become: On William Cash’s ‘Restoration Heart’
Cash’s memoir is the story of a man whose penchant for letters suggests a desire to hold on to the present. Sealing up the envelope means ending the letter; it means allowing our fantasies and stories to be finished, read, and judged. The post The St