I’m not a food critic, but I do know how to judge a restaurant accurately. Forget portion size, ambiance or availability of fresh, cage-free avocados; when I want to size up a restaurant, I head straight for the bathroom.
If the bathroom has a Dyson Airblade hand dryer, it deserves at least two Michelin stars; if it has a regular hand dryer or (gasp) archaic paper towels made from tree meat, I have some serious doubts about the establishment. For the record, the Mitsubishi Electric Jet Towel dryer is an acceptable second place hand drying solution to the Dyson unit.
How do you judge a person’s writing? We’ve all learned that we shouldn’t judge a book by its cover (although a good cover really does help). In the same way I can tell a restaurant is going to be amazing based on its choice of hand dryers, I can tell someone’s writing will be fantastic based on his use of semicolons.
What are semicolons? Think of them as super commas. They’re the mutant offspring of a colon, a period and a comma. A semicolon’s primary job is to connect two independent clauses that are related to the same idea in the same sentence. Here’s an example: I’m thinking of buying a new superyacht; I spilled champagne on my old one and now it’s sticky. In this sentence, each clause before and after the semicolon can stand on its own as a complete sentence. However, they’re linked by the same common idea, which is the purchase of a new superyacht. This is the main way to use a semicolon.
Like any superhero, it’s cool to have more than one superpower. This is also true for our friend, the semicolon. You should also use a semicolon between items in a list or in a series if any of these items contain commas. For example: There are two types of people in this world: people who know how to use a semicolon, which makes them amazing and heroic; and people who won’t get invited to my Oscars watch party, which will boast at least three chocolate fountains. If your list or series doesn’t include a comma, it doesn’t need a semicolon.
Semicolons can do a masterful job of connecting ideas and clauses in your writing. Used properly and sparingly, they’re like watching a bald eagle soaring over Mount Rushmore at dusk on the Fourth of July; however, if you overuse them, you’re stuck with a restaurant full of fancy hand dryers and no food.
—Curtis Honeycutt is an award-winning syndicated humor columnist. Connect with him on Twitter (@curtishoneycutt) or at curtishoneycutt.com.