Originally Posted by HarryT
What would you have used in place of the semicolon in the sentence that I wrote, above? A comma? A dash?
If I were writing a poetic or critical piece, or a letter to a friend, I'd leave the semicolon in. If I were writing for a magazine or people who hated ornate language, I'd replace it with a conjunction like because
or a conjunctive phrase, or separate the thoughts with a period and add a phrase like This is because
to the beginning of the second sentence to give it more weight and approximate the semicolon's connective effect.
Yes, of course you're using the semicolon correctly. The question is whom you're speaking to and how patient they might be with slightly formal language. You could also make a case for using semicolons deliberately to introduce readers to other kinds of language than the rigidly contemporary, but I personally would do so consciously and modally, and be ready to state my case tactfully if a reader or editor complained.
The person who spoke of usage being a triumph of idiocy could be right in a narrow ironic sense, but that would suggest that writers had been idiots for centuries. Language evolves constantly to reflect changing habits and needs, and the result has as much to do with innovation as it does with entrenched misuse. English has never been a perfect language, but that's why it can be particularly expressive. Modern writers often use fragments and startlingly ungrammatical phrases, but that's because there has been continuous development of Flaubert's innovations (now traditions) in the name of interior narrative and fidelity to his characters' thinking -- notably free indirect speech. You can see this development in the modernists, obviously (Joyce and Beckett!), but you can see it in popular fiction, too. The Friends of Eddie Coyle
, by George V. Higgins, for example, and the writers whose style that book influenced directly (such as Elmore Leonard's).
That was an example, actually: I nearly used the phrase such as that of Elmore Leonard
but chose to be more colloquial for the reader. (Hey, let's call up Elmore Leonard and use the phrase such as that of Elmore Leonard
and see what he says. Odds are he'll be polite to disguise his irritation.)
It isn't a question of being rigidly correct but of being alert to the conventions of usage and one's own consistency. I've split infinitives and ended sentences with prepositions in this very post, but I did so deliberately, with an ear to their rhetorical effect.
Whether or not we ever succeed at striking a balance is a question most of us ask ourselves constantly. We ask until the day we don't have to or don't want to.