Skip to content

Vonnegut and Fitzgerald Ponder Punctuation

Only dorks like me have opinions on semicolons.

I love quotes and tips about writing, especially from the great writers.

So, on occasion, I’ll throw a writing post into the mix–especially if it has something to do with an author on the Time list.  In fact, the most popular post in the history of this blog is about writing.

Anyway, here are two of my favorite quotes about punctuation from two authors on the Time list:

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.  – Kurt Vonnegut

Cut out all these exclamation points. An exclamation point is like laughing at your own joke. – F. Scott Fitzgerald

Great stuff. When I’m actually “writing” ( in other words, articles, blog posts, marketing copy, etc) I rarely, if ever, use exclamation points and never use semicolons. I understand when to use each, but a semicolon must be the most pointless piece of punctuation that exists.

Why use it? A period, or even an em dash, will work just as well and isn’t near as stuffy.

Do you have any punctuation grievances?

About these ads
24 Comments Post a comment
  1. Blair #

    This is quite poignant; thank you for the words of wisdom!!!

    April 21, 2011
    • Well played, Blair.

      April 21, 2011
  2. Christina #

    I love semicolons. Maybe it is because I’m a writing major at my university, but they will never go out of style!

    Long live the semi-colon!

    April 21, 2011
  3. Gemma Sidney #

    I wish people would learn how to use apostrophes correctly! I do a lot of reading, books as well as blogs, and I am always shocked by the number apostrophe-related errors I find. It drives me crazy.

    I hope you agree that my use of the exclamation point in the above paragraph was merited.

    April 21, 2011
    • Absolutely! See, I use them too! Just not when I’m writing articles and the like.

      April 21, 2011
      • Gemma Sidney #

        Great, because overuse of the exclamation point annoys me too.

        April 21, 2011
  4. Ben #

    My favorite punctuation that never caught on is the interrobang. It’s a question mark and an exclamation mark combined into one symbol. It’s the kind of mark you’d place at the end of the sentence: You’re kidding, right?! Nope. It’s real, and it has a wikipedia page.

    April 21, 2011
    • Wow. Learn something new every day. That’s really cool. And I see the need for something like that–the question mark followed by the exclamation point always looks so ugly. And people tend to get carried away with it.

      April 21, 2011
    • Gemma Sidney #

      I didn’t know it had a name! When used correctly, the interrobang is a killer.

      April 21, 2011
      • Patti #

        The name was news to me, too. I agree that it does have its place, and also agree it should not be overdone.

        April 21, 2011
  5. I really try and monitor my exclamation point usage. I didn’t really have an issue with semi-colons but Vonnegut is a very persuasive man.

    April 21, 2011
  6. @mutantsupermodel and @robert (and @fitzgerald!). I allow myself to eat chips approx 4 times a year – it’s easy. But exclamation marks are only used in my work once a year. Now you’ll think I’m uptight, but at least I’ve used up the 2011 exclamation mark allowance, so won’t have to worry about it for next eight months. (Admittedly the rule doesn’t apply when I’m texting or emailing friends…).

    April 21, 2011
  7. Yes, yes, the semi-colon is so uncool these days and Vonnegut is the be-all-end-all of prose styling. But actually, I think there are instances where a semi-colon is a better choice than the em dash, comma, or period. Particularly where I want to maintain a sense of rhythm and continuity while listing several ideas in succession, all relating to one antecedent. Granted, this can be overdone (I’m looking at you, Ms. Woolf). And sure, I could use the period to a staccato effect instead–it’s all the rage with the kids these days–but sometimes I just wanna, like, let it flow, man. Know what I’m saying?

    As for Fitzgerald, well. He’s the be-all-end-all of prose styling. Am I right about that?

    April 21, 2011
    • What’s up Cam? Fitzgerald–Absolutely agreed! Can’t wait to read Gatsby for like the 5th time.

      My writing style, conversational, is probably biasing my view of the semicolon. I see what you are saying about the semicolon having its place in some instances. But I would still say 99% of the time, it shouldn’t be used (not that it can’t be used). Even with that 1%, the appearance of the semicolon, in all its ugliness, tends to disrupt my reading experience, disrupting the rhythm and flow that the writer may be trying to create in the first place. All that said, I’m not a huge fan of Vonnegut, though I loved that quote.

      April 21, 2011
  8. The worst is when people try to throw in a semicolon where a simple comma should be. Don’t be tryin’ to fancy up your commas! Let ‘em be. And actually USE THEM when blogging. Lack of proper punctuation is bringing us down. That’s why 101 Books is so pleasant to read! :)!

    April 21, 2011
    • Agreed. Thanks for the compliment!

      April 21, 2011
  9. Have to say the semicolon is my favourite punctuation mark. I think it’s because I’m an editor and see it used so rarely, and used correctly even more rarely! I love seeing a properly placed semicolon!

    And thanks to Ben for info about the interrobang…I am guilty of using that in e-mails and occasional facebook posts.

    What can I say: I’m a punctuation junkie!

    April 21, 2011
  10. I love the semi-colon!

    But maybe it’s from my text analysis days in acting courses. Each punctuation indicates a different kind of break/change in thought in a theatrical text. What a semi-colon means, in terms of a character’s thought process, is so incredibly different than a comma, a dash, a colon, a period, and so on. You can’t disregard its usefulness!

    April 21, 2011
    • If someone knows how to use a semicolon correctly, then, by all means, go for it. But I think a lot of times semicolons are showy punctuation (because so few people know how to use them) so either they are used incorrectly, overused, or both. Not only that, but, as I mentioned, they are stuffy–at least in the writing world I live in.

      April 21, 2011
      • How can punctuation be showy?:)

        April 22, 2011
    • @isthatyoudorothy…not punctuation in general, just semicolons. Since only grammar nerds like us know how to use a semicolon and 95% of the world has no idea, maybe every now and then we put one in there for “look at me” effect. I did this in college when I first understood how to use a semicolon. How annoying of me.

      April 22, 2011
  11. I am not sure what is more annoying – bad puntuation or bad spelling. Both can get me off track from the reading enjoyment.

    April 22, 2011
  12. I like the semicolon rules listed in Oatmeal:

    May 3, 2011
  13. Wow, this article is good, my sister is analyzing such things, thus
    I am going to tell her.

    July 9, 2014

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 31,001 other followers

%d bloggers like this: