Penkava: Living the punctuated life of a lowly semicolon

Michael Penkava
Michael Penkava

As a writer, I am a bit familiar with punctuation marks.

That’s not saying I’m a crackerjack at it, as my copy editors will tell you. Their job is to clean up the cryptographic mess I write so you readers think that I’ve got all my diacritical marks in a row.

Still, I am pretty good with the periods and question marks.

However, my correct use of quotations is iffy, and I uncontrollably sprinkle commas like salt on a baked potato. I avoid asterisks like the fetid odor of cooked broccoli.

Apostrophe placements are a coin toss, and exclamation marks are periods on steroids. I only use slashes for cutting remarks. Hyphens and dashes are horizontal Olsen twins, parentheses are for copy editors’ use only, and the ellipsis … well … it’s a very convenient mark for me to use when I can’t think of anything else to write.

All of this brings me to the colon and semicolon, which, although when added up amount to an intestine and a half, still have their grammatical function.

The colon itself, however, is thoroughly mundane: It’s used to precede a list of things, quotations or explanations. It is so uninspiring that if the colon was a body part, it would ironically be a nose hair.

But the semicolon, now that’s something worth pondering. Even its shape is intriguing; it’s a comma with a dot over it. It’s as if the comma wasn’t pause enough; something more hesitantly profound was needed.

The semicolon is a comma in meditation; it’s a premeditated delay, a deliberate breathing space, a stopover, a hiatus before continuing on.

All of which got me thinking … if our life was a punctuation mark, which mark would it be?

Would we be a period … a life steadfastly marching until the culminating end?

Or a question mark … a life spent not knowing its purpose, only to end without an answer?

Then there’s the exclamation point … a life lived frantically and ending with a bang!

The dash is a life short-lived, and the slash is a life lived without love/compassion.

The ellipsis is a life of confusion and doubt … no direction, no destination.

Living an asterisk’s life, one constantly needs to explain oneself.

The colon is a life of a long list of stuff: stuff to get, stuff to get rid of, never having enough stuff, but eventually running out of time.

The comma’s life, however, is one spent trying to delay the inevitable.

Which brings us to my life as a semicolon. In grammar, a semicolon is used when a sentence could have ended but didn’t. It hesitated, reconsidered and regrouped, and continued on.

That’s what I’ve seemed to do in my life. When my dreams could have ended, I waited, looked for a way to muddle on, and somehow kept moving.

When life created detours, I recalculated. I took unfamiliar roads that led me to unexpected destinations. As I continue to ripen like a zestless banana, it seems I need more and more semicolons in my life.

Someday I will come to the period in my life. But, in the meantime, I’m banking on the comma with a dot on top to keep me going for a while longer. ;-)

• Michael Penkava taught a bunch of kids and wrote a bunch of stuff. He actually wanted to have the life of an apostrophe, but he couldn’t mind his p’s and q’s. He can be reached at

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