A Semicolon Firestorm and Some Practical Semicolon Advice

An essay published online set off a social-media firestorm last week. The too-hot-to-touch topic wasn’t Syria or impeachment or even Stephen Miller’s new hair. It was about something far more incendiary: semicolons.

The title will tell you everything you need to know: “The semicolon is pointless and it’s ruining your writing,” the headline on the Writing Cooperative website proclaimed. If the author was looking for attention, mission accomplished.

“Idiotic,” author J. Robert Lennon tweeted.

“Rules about writing from someone who doesn’t understand writing,” a Twitter user named John replied.

“Time to remake those Worst Take of 2018 lists,” Slate editor Sam Adams tweeted.

The author gave his detractors plenty of fodder. For example, the essay asserts that prescriptivists, people who are sticklers for certain artificial language rules, are usually copy editors. Not true.

In fact, there were a lot of faulty premises in the piece. But it just so happens I agree with the central point: semicolons can be bad news. Here's my take and what you need to know.

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