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Journey; semi-colon
The existence of the semi-colon is proof that "Good Enough" just isn't.
17 December 2019 . 3min read

The existence of the semi-colon is proof that "Good Enough" just isn't.

As I go through life, sometimes running, sometimes sitting, sometimes falling, sometimes climbing, there is a sense that you just need to do "Enough". There is that underlying trend that whilst you need to do your best, it is also perfectly OK to do "enough".

Generally, I have found that it's linked to the idea that life is full of destinations. It is full of places to get to, either physically, emotionally, or mentally. It is a series of points. Get to and through them, and you are making progress. Granted, sometimes we go backwards, but that is OK too. You just need to know where the next point is, and head towards it.

Look at the modern techie world, and you see people are executing on this big time. They are rushing to the next point, the next tweet, the next snapchat thing, the next high score. A massive series of points that need to be visited and ticked off.

In 1494 Italian printer Aldus Manutius created the semicolon, with Ben Jonson being the first English writer to use it systematically decades later. It can be used to link related clauses. We can also think of it as a longer pause than a comma, but not quite a full stop. You don't have to use it at all. It is not like a full stop that always needs to be used. It is not like a comma, which you can use to add some pause and tone to the written sentence; it is something different.

The semi-colon is something that doesn't really need to exist. Its usage has also declined in recent decades too, from the peak in the 1800s, but it is still around today.

In a world of destinations, in a world of full-stops and commas, what does the semi-colon say about it all?

It is a powerful reminder of something so important that it defines a fundamental human trait. Journey.

There is a tremendous pressure to get to the next point, to get to the next event, to get the next best grades, to be next, or to be first. There is a focus on full-stops. The commas are only there to let you plan, to briefly pause, so that you can get to the next full-stop more efficiently.

The semi-colon doesn't help with any of that. It does nothing but add noise. It is rubbish and has no place here. It is still here, though; you see it kicking around sometimes. So, why am I talking about this?

The semi-colon reminds us that the word-journey and sentence landscape are just as important as the concluding marks. In fact, you can't just throw a semi-colon into a sentence, like you can with a comma; thought is needed.

You need to plan for a semi-colon; you need to appreciate the sentence, the tone and the style. It needs to be worked into the sentence to make it work. Adding a semi-colon can elevate a mundane sentence into something special; semi-colons add value.

Semi-colons teach us that for some, the journey of a sentence is just as important as the contents of the sentence, and more important than the destination.

We still use them now, some 500 years later. How has something that is 'odd' still managed to stick around? Could it be that it is an example that shows that, although we are currently focused on commas and full-stops, that we are at heart more of a journey people.

Despite what we are currently being programmed for, at our core, we are all about the journey.

Travel defines us as a race, and the semi-colon is the literary form of that.

OK, what does this have to do with "enough"? In truth, it probably has nothing to do with just doing enough, but here you have proof that "enough" is trivial; you have just followed a word journey this far on the promise that I will explain the value of the semi-colon.

The end of a long journey, that ended up being the start of a new journey.


Profile photo of Nigel Derbyshire

I'm a carbon-unit who writes; a Carbon Writer. Life & culture are my default topics, mixed with a little English wit & sarcasm. Full of mostly true stories, I occasionally remember to write them down. Found in a crowd, or contemplating in a corner. Habit of talking to anyone. Author.
- Nigel Derbyshire