The Semi-Misunderstood Semicolon
(Starring Captain and Tennille!?)
I assume most of you know what a semicolon (;) is and where it’s located on the keyboard or touch screen. Most of you also know how it functions in modern-day communications: as the wink in a happy-faced emoticon, right? Yep, Mr. Semicolon is the Captain to Ms. Close Parenthesis’s Tennille. But here’s a little-known fact: the semicolon is actually a punctuation mark that has practical applications in our myriad writings. If that sounds like I’m insulting your intelligence, I’m sorry. It’s just that until he recently found work as one-half (appropriate since the prefix “semi-” means “half”) of the ol’ wink ’n’ smile, the semicolon had long been neglected—even misused.
It’s a story that somewhat mirrors the life of Captain Daryl Dragon. Once a master yachtsman and a helmsman of his own Carnival® poop ship, the Captain had his life forever altered when his prank-pulling first mate stirred some PCP into his morning coffee. With PCP onboard, the Captain determined that he could get to Jamaica faster by steaming his Carnival® cruiser clear through a small Caribbean island occupied by a Sandals® resort instead of going around it. He beached the ship, of course, and had to be forcibly removed from its bridge. (During the melee, the Captain was heard to say, “Don’t tase me, bro!” a full 25 years before it entered the national lexicon.)
Later, the Captain emerged from his angel dust-fueled rampage in the empty Sandals® lounge. Drinking Chablis straight from the box, the now-unemployed Captain, who was also well-known for plying more romantic waters with a few tickles of the ivories, stumbled over to the vacant piano to console himself with a melody.
Arriving early to knock back a few Tropical Breeze® daiquiris prior to her nightly torture fest of torch songs in the Sandals® lounge (where sandals aren’t allowed after 6 p.m.), singer Toni Tennille heard the Captain pounding out a rough but delightfully saccharine melody—the very one that would soon crystallize into the song “Love Will Keep Us Together.” And that is when Capt. Dragon and Toni Tennille consummated pop music’s greatest union as Captain and Tennille.
Unlike the Captain, however, the semicolon prefers not to be a lounge act with the close parenthesis; he simply wants to punctuate sentences—nothing more. But before we can grant him his wish, we must remind ourselves of the semicolon’s proper use. Let the following rules and their corresponding examples guide you.
Use a semicolon to join two independent clauses not joined by a coordinating conjunction. Further, from the Associated Press Stylebook: “…use the semicolon [within a sentence] to indicate a greater separation of thought and information than a comma can convey but less than the separation that a period implies.” For example:
On account of the idiotic yachting hat he always wore while banging on the piano, Daryl Dragon drew the nickname “Captain Keyboard” from the Beach Boys’ Mike Love; because of his penchant for drinking rum excessively and vomiting on women as he serenaded them with “I Get Around,” Mike Love got the nickname “Captain Morgan” from Daryl Dragon.
Besides joining two independent clauses, the semicolon also comes in handy within a sentence containing phrases with other internal punctuation, such as commas. For example:
The Captain shipwrecked his music career following an incident on the Santa Monica Pier involving Alka-Seltzer®, bread, and an unruly audience of seagulls. His career is survived by his wife, Toni Tennille of Long Beach, Calif.; son, Captain Jr. of Daytona Beach, Fla.; drinking buddy, Mike Love of Malibu, Calif.; 341 dorky yachtsman hats; AM radio; and millions of discarded LP records polluting America’s landfills, thrift stores, and rummage sales.
(Dear Mike Love and Daryl Dragon, the above story is a work of fiction. I'm broke anyway, so don't waste your time suing.)
Special thanks to Brieann Gonczy.