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Sunday, September 9, 2012

I Shot Myself in Reno, Just to Watch Me Die


I wouldn’t say that it’s come to fisticuffs, my love of punctuation, but I did once leave a job over the semicolon.

The mighty yet humble semicolon!

I fell in love with punctuation while in school for court reporting. My instructor, Miss Sedentary (not her real name), was from another era. Her fingers were stained yellow from the Viceroys that were never far from her side. She pushed her "uppers" around with her tongue when she was nervous. She uttered the phrase “if that makes any sense” – as in “You’ll need to differentiate the attorneys early in the goings, if that makes any sense” - at least a dozen times a day.

The phrase "if that makes any sense" became part of the class's lexicon and eventually led to drinking games.

If that makes any sense.

Miss Sedentary taught us punctuation, however; and for that, I am grateful.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t know everything about punctuation. For example, I do not use the “en” dash or the “em” dash. I’m not even sure what they’re for.

They sound fast, though; and I like that.

But the semicolon? Cross the first two fingers on your right hand and take a look. You see that? That’s me and the semicolon.

After I finished school, I worked in Central Wisconsin for a court reporting firm: depositions, per diem work. The company I worked for was owned, in part, by a man who believed that “eh”, as in “Nice day, eh?” was spelled “aye”. He also once left me a memo regarding a “passed do note”.

Passed do?

He was also vehemently anti-semicolon. He felt they were unnecessary and had no value.

No value?! How could he say that?

And so it came to pass that I had pages and pages of deposition of a man who spoke almost exclusively in sentences in which the semicolon figured prominently.

For example:
  • “Yes, sir; and then I swung the frying pan at her head.”
  • “The truth of the matter is that I mixed it into my pop; sprinkled it over pizza; and, on one occasion, added it to a bottle of scented oil.”
  • “I left the room; and when I got back, she was waiting for me behind the door with a cricket bat. I have no idea where she got that bat.”
“What the hell are you doing?!” my boss bellows. “Who can read this?! You take it home, you take those @#$!@ing semicolons out of there!”

“But it’s how it was taught to me! It’s right!”

He pushes a blunt index finger in my face. “You'll do it the way I say! You’ll do it right, right now – tonight! – or you’ll resign right now. You hear me?!”

I fixed it.

And then I quit.

It was a ridiculous stand to take.  I realize this now. The semicolon in semi-question was not the only factor that drove me out of Central Wisconsin; but it seemed incredibly important at the time that I follow the rules, if only in punctuation, if only this once.

That, and no one pushes a finger in my face.

This sort of thing happens to me quite a bit, this need to stand pat when convinced I’m right. I may not be able to point myself North without the aid of a compass or reliably replace your spark plug wires in the proper order, but I damn-sure know the things I know.

If that makes any sense.

46 comments:

Rene Foran said...

and you damn sure had every right to stand up for the semi-colon.

that damn anti semi-colonite

Stephen Hayes said...

And one thing you do know is how to write a fun post about punctuation--no small trick.

savannah said...

i rarely use semi-colons; and i know i probably should use them more often.

if that makes any sense

sweet mary sunshine, sugarpie! i am finally laughing out loud after the defeat my beloved Saints suffered this afternoon (40-32) by the redskins. xoxooxoo


TexWisGirl said...

rode outta c.wis on a semi-colon, didja?! :)

Pearl said...

Rene, oh, how I wish I'd thought of that. :-)

Stephen, :-) Sometimes, you just have to make a stand. And then work out how you're going to pay your bills..

Pearl said...

Savannah, I feel for you. I am, after all, a Vikings fan. We know a thing or two about losses!

TexWis, ha! Another line I wish I'd thought of. Dagnabit.

Geo. said...

First, I have no idea how you came up with that title-convolution of Cash; it's one of the most brilliant and funny things I ever saw. As to "em dash", it was named for Emily Dickinson who collected wild hyphens growing on her property and used them as punctuation. The nasty boss also has historical support. Vonnegut hated semicolons. I am ambivalent because, like you, I learned them with my other stops. But oh that TITLE! Unforgettable. Thanks.

Silliyak said...

Your boss needed a semi colonoscopy.

Pearl said...

Geo, oh, thank you for that! :-)

Silliyak, and there's aNOTHER one! :-) Dammit. I know too many funny people...

Eva Gallant said...

My high school Am. History teacher used the phrase "as such" hundreds of times per day. I learned very little in that class because I was busy making a tic mark each time he used it. I can't recall now what his record was, but I know it was huge! If that makes any sense.

Sioux said...

Didn't we have somebody working for the White House named Semi-Colon Powell?

There's power in the semi-colon. You did a noble deed indeed, Pearl.

Paula Wooters said...

I'm hopeless with punctuation, especially semi-colons. Carry on and use the semi-colon at will; I would never dream of correcting you.

Joanne Noragon said...

That finger in the face trumps commas and raises a semi-colon or two. Been there; done that.

mybabyjohn/Delores said...

You don't waggle a finger in my face either Pearl....them's fightin' gestures. You just put them thar semi whatsits wherever you like.

Twisted Scottish Bastard said...

I always liked to use your old friend, but we were told to leave them out of our School Reports as they tended to confuse the parents.

Juli said...

I read this whole post. And all the comments.

I still have no idea when I should use a semi-colon.

Which is likely why you'll never find one in any of my posts.

esbboston said...

Cross the first two fingers on your right hand and take a look. That's what I do to Cooper and then I teLL him, "Ernie and Cooper are bubba's, huh?" and he loves that. It is 8:43 and he wants his 9 PM cheese, but I told him I was busy writing to Pearl, besides, I haven't finished reading your blog post. I did meet his long lost twin sister from Arkansas today. Her name is Lucy and she was born a couple months later, has a darker mix of colors and is much smaLLer. She lives just around the block. Ah, German Shepherd Huskie mixes.

jenny_o said...

That takes care of the known knowns. What position do you take on the known unknowns? How about the unknown unknowns?

:)

Starting Over, Accepting Changes - Maybe said...

Life could not be lived, stories could not be told, and hell would freeze over if it were not for semi-colons.

If that makes any sense.

fishducky said...

I; never; make; sense!

The Elephant's Child said...

'Passed do' has me smiling loudly. As does the rest of the post. Thank you Pearl. Lots.

Donna Hole said...

Makes perfect sense to me :)

........dhole

esbboston said...

We would make a great team, I almost always know north; a compass? Hah! We don't need no stinkin' compass ....

A Daft Scots Lass said...

Why Ma'm; the two most common elements in the world are hydrogen and stupidity.

River said...

I'm not always sure when to use semicolons myself, but it seems to me that your second example, where the guy is sprinkling stuff on pizza and anywhere else he can, doesn't need those semicolons.
But you were right to quit that job. Stand over tactics such as yelling and fingers in faces don't have to be put up with.

Tempo said...

oh poor you...reading my posts and comments must drive you nuts. I dont know much about punctuation..but I know enough to know I use it all wrong. Annoying aint it?

Linda O'Connell said...

I'm late to the gate because I went back to school last week, but I am so glad to start my day with a hearty laugh: swamp heifer and weenie water soup. I am gasping for breath. You are a riot.

the walking man said...

The n line is to replace a writers ellipses where no ellipses belongs. an ellipses implies that something follows the initial statement... <ellipses

The—N line indicates nothing more than a pause without any follow up IMPLIED thought.


I always found this rather humorous:

If you really want to hurt your parents, and you don’t have the nerve to be a homosexual, the least you can do is go into the arts. But do not use semicolons. They are transvestite hermaphrodites, standing for absolutely nothing. All they do is show you’ve been to college.

Kurt Vonnegut

Terri Buster said...

Well you definitely showed him a thing or two about semi-colons!

The Vegetable Assassin said...

You know, Pearl, I'm generally fairly good with grammar, however, I have NEVER understood semi colons. Not once. It always seems to me like half the time you could get away with no punctuation at all and the other half a comma. Please explain the rules to me. I am entirely serious. What's the general difference between using a semi colon over a common old comma. Oddly enough, I am fine with colons.

vanilla said...

A point that seems to have been overlooked, or at least not commented on, is the integrity with which you concluded your employment with the butthead. You completed the task to his specs before you left. You were right on all levels.

As to punctuation, I am a minimalist.

vanilla said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Elsie said...

It makes a whole lotta sense =)

I'm the same way, Pearl. I will always stand up for what I believe in.

Nessa Roo said...

If I had not read one of your previous posts (about PSDS), I might never have known what a "passed do note" was. I would have just stared at the screen thinking, "That doesn't even make sense."
On the other hand, one of my favorite conversations with my boss centers around the semicolon and his insistence that I am always inventing new punctuation marks.

NotesFromAbroad said...

I imagine that my blogging, commenting and emails must drive some people mad. I have no patience anymore and just want to get what I think out ... I used dots a lot and an occasional period, comma or exclamation point. Otherwise, it is up to the reader, use your imagination, figure out what I am saying :)
Yeah, I use smiley faces too ! ..... ~ snicker ~

CarrieBoo said...

That makes TOTAL sense! :D Semicolon rights! Yeah!

MommaRock said...

Oh, this was funny, to read anyway. Not that you had to quit.
I worked with a gal that said "does that make sense" all the time. I think she wanted acceptance.
I had never quit a job because I couldn't work for incompetence until the last job I had. That was May 15th, I am still jobless. But hubby tells me, when I go into my crying fits for not having a job, that it will all be fine!

I am back into blogging and found you via another blog, glad I popped by.

Oh, and there may have been somewhere that there should have been a semicolon in my tell all above, but I didn't have as good a teacher as you did when it came to punctuation OR I wasn't paying attention, which was most likely latter reason.
Sorry to ramble on.
Take care!
~~~kimmer

Green Girl in Wisconsin said...

Equal treatment and respect for all forms of punctuation, yo!

Sextant said...

Down with the semicolon. LOL! First of all it has a colostomy like implication that causes me to shiver. LMAO! The colon, BTW, seems to avoid such alimentary metaphors, but not the semicolon. ;) (The semicolon even makes a smart assed emoticon.) To me semicolons are a nuisance that Microsoft Word seems to delight in providing a green squiggle; my technical documents at work would be loaded with green squiggles for the hated semicolon. ROF! I refused both to use the semicolon, and inform Word to ignore the rule. It was my way of getting back at the woman...those many prissy English teachers...whom over the years...not only faulted my lack of semicolons...but hated my excessive usage of...well...ellipses (and parenthetical additions that rendered my writing {very [if not extremely] much so} difficult {due to choppiness} to read {much like Nicholson Baker's usage of footnotes [in The Mezzanine]}). ROF LAMO!

Another area of extreme hatred on my part is the who / whom controversy. My dictionary happily reports:

"Although there are some speakers who still use who and whom according to the rules of formal grammar as stated here, there are many more who rarely use whom at all; its use has retreated steadily and is now largely restricted to formal contexts. The normal practice in modern English is to use who instead of whom ( who do you think we should support?) and, where applicable, to put the preposition at the end of the sentence ( who do you wish to speak to?). "

If I seem a Philistine in my grammar, let me also report that I despise the Twitterization of the English language and refuse (for the most part) to use such terminologies and short cuts. If it can be said in 140 characters it is simply not worth saying. I also despise emoticons and seldom use those as well, if u no wot i mene. LMFAO!

Has anyone else ever noticed that for some reason in electronic communication, it seems perfectly acceptable to state anything, no matter how outrageous, untrue, or insulting as long as one puts the LOL, or happy face emoticon. What is the implication of that? Just joking? Oh don't get angry because I just insulted you...the emoticon makes it all OK. Or is it a nervous tic? ROFF FLMFAFO! :)

BECKY said...

Pearl, I applaud your spunk! I love Spunk! And I always stand up for what I know is right, too. Here's a quote I found for you: [To T. E. Lawrence, on Seven Pillars of Wisdom:] You practically do not use semicolons at all. This is a symptom of mental defectiveness, probably induced by camp life.

George Bernard Shaw

Sextant said...

Upon re-reading my comment, I must confess, by the way, to frequently use BTW. I have resolved to never use it again, BTW.

Pat said...

There are worse things than standing pat - especially when Pat is at the bar.

Suldog said...

Good for you! Punctuation is important. And nobody should ever let a bully get away with shoving a finger in his or her face, even if said bully is signing the paychecks.

The Jules said...

And what are your views on the interrobang?

Lola Rouge ...the mom said...

Pearl I think my English teacher would have been Miss Sedentary's nemesis. He believed strongly in writers discretion; which explains why I am in love with the subject yet use poor grammar on my blog ,;:/ If that makes any sense; teehee (I'm being obnoxious)

Pat Tillett said...

I'm trying to remember the name of a book I read a few years ago. It had no punctuation in it whatsoever! For the most part, it made very little difference while reading it. I'm sure that that causes many folks to shiver, but it's true!