Punctuation Economy

Here’s what I’ve learned this week while copy editing hundreds of personal essays. Never use semicolons. Almost never use colons. If you’ve found a cliche that perfectly expresses what you mean, go with an imperfect way. Cliches have a soporific effect on the reader. Colons and semicolons are too hard. They’re like prose dams.

I propose a punctuation economy. Periods are free. Commas cost a nickel. Hyphens cost a nickel, too. Dashes cost ten cents. Contractions also cost ten cents. Semicolons used properly cost one dollar. By properly I mean “blah blah blah; however, yadda yadda yadda.” Semicolons used improperly cost five dollars. Colons used properly also cost five dollars. Just make another sentence--periods are free. Colons used improperly cost $100. NO REFUNDS!

Although I am a fussbudget, these guidelines aren’t about fussbudgetry; rather, they’re about making prose readable or at least less unreadable. Let the prose run free. Spare your reader the speed bumps and trust her. She’ll insert the pauses where they’re needed.


Richmond, VA