Ah, the lowly, misunderstood semicolon. The “Son of Sam” killer David Berkowitz loved them; Edgar Allen Poe and Kurt Vonnegut hated them (Vonnegut: “All [semicolons] do is show that you’ve been to college.”). And now Slate tells us they are dying out, a victim of the, um, the telegraph machine — okay, so it’s actually a pretty slow death, but it’s still a loss to the language.
True, some won’t miss them:
Semicolons do have some genuine shortcomings; Slate’s founding editor, Michael Kinsley, once noted to the Financial Times that “[t]he most common abuse of the semicolon, at least in journalism, is to imply a relationship between two statements without having to make clear what that relationship is.” All journalists can cop to this: The semicolon allows woozy clauses to lean on each other like drunks for support.
It’s a shame, really; as I, for one, believe that the semicolon; when used properly; and sparingly; can be one of the subtlest; and most effective; tools in the writer’s toolbox.