First things first: Don’t feel bad if you don’t know how to use a semicolon. Feel worse—for me—about how long I agonized over whether “first things first” should be followed with a colon or an em dash. I decided it was much more attractive with a colon; even though technically the colon isn’t preceded by an independent clause, it is an introduction of concept; moreover, in the end it was an artistic and aesthetic choice of punctuation. I do that all the time, without even thinking about it—I make arbitrary punctuational decisions based upon whether it suits me and/or I think it’s debatable.
I can do that; I have an MFA—not that we covered semicolons and em dashes much. But we did talk a lot about art, especially language art, and sometimes even when it’s okay to begin a sentence with “but.” Notice also the most-of-the-time incorrect usage of the comma in the subtitle of this blog, and that I chose the word “usage” over “use,” and that I like to make a lot of linked-word adjectives. I have my wordsmithery reasons and a terminal degree to make what I want. The comma in my subtitle is intended to create a short dramatic pause—it’s a dramatic (not grammatical) device!—approximately equivalent to somewhere between an eighth and a quarter rest in music; please also note I did not use a comma between “short” and “dramatic” for very similar but inverse reasons.
Probably, I should write a style guide, but that sounds like giving away your secrets, doesn’t it?
Besides, I’m making this crap up as I go along anyway. I know language is about as arbitrary as lovemaking, yo, and if LOL and IMHO and bling and w00t can make their ways into the Oxford Dictionary—if the short form of “not normal” can mutate like a usage virus in the wild and deviate from the proper Latin “anormal” until it becomes abnormal—if the Associated Press can just delete punctuation whenever they feel like it—if the Modern Language Association and the American Psychological Association can get into erudite nerd fights about proper citation—if the Oxford and Webster dictionaries can’t come to terms on whether website is one word (<--hint: it is) or whether or not it should be capitalized—then by golly I can master-craft some stylish dang comma insertions and onomatopoeic word renditions from time to time if I wanna.
Hardly anything is as painfully noticeable to me as an unintentionally misused semicolon. Like I said before, nobody should feel bad about this; I spend much of my day-job reorganizing the labored syntax of respected PhDs who quite obviously did not specialize in semicolons; what I don’t do is correct their estimations about the best way to go about dealing with mass fatalities. Semicolons don’t seem all that hard; there are only three rules to remember. But still, I’m apparently among the one percent (Miller, 2011) who knows them. Somewhere along the educational line, I suppose, people must develop some intense fear and loathing and misunderstanding of one very small and ideally unintimidating spurt of punctuation.
In my artistic mind, I want to say using one is as simple and musically intuitive as finding the midpoint between a half and a full rest, but that’s only if using the JLM Style Guide, which many people quite obviously would find woefully imprecise.
So, once and for all, here are the three official rules for using semicolons.
1. Use a semicolon between two independent clauses (sentences) that are closely related and/or equal in rank. (JLM Style dictates using a semicolon when the next thought is in sentence form and is an extension of the previous thought but not a big enough departure to warrant a whole new sentence idea progression, or when you’re too lazy to use a comma and a coordinating conjunction, or when it has a detrimental impact on your internal voice’s rhythm and flow.)
Example: Commas are more complicated than semicolons; there are five ways to use commas.
2. Use a semicolon between two sentences when you want to sound smart by using pretentious conjunctive adverbs or transitional phrases like however, moreover, therefore, in conclusion, and in other words, or even more pretentious independent clauses beginning with abbreviated Latin transitional phrases like e.g., et cetera (JLM Style Guide, 2011).
Example: I think presumptuous, egotistical, indulgent, and rambling treatises on punctuation are ridiculous; moreover, they make everybody dumber for reading them; i.e., I’ve already forgotten what I was talking about.
3. Use a semicolon to separate items on a list if—and only if!—the items are expressed in complicated phrases involving commas or if you just want to ramble on ad infinitum.
Example: It seems to me one should assume the way he or she uses language is the correct, most proper, and natural way; that nobody should really be an “official,” “highest,” or “recognized” authority on the way anybody finds meaning in a collectively evolving organism such as language; and that no matter which form of language—or language presentation—one has grown up to master (redneck, thug, soccer mom, English professor), one should understand he or she might be the sole master of that form and be proud of it; however, one should master some basics of the written form in its most commonly understood form—or at least the written form most used in whichever professional or social circle to which one desires to present ideas; moreover, if one is presenting to a large, multinational, multiregional, or multicultural audience, one should take care to use the simplest and most proper and recognized format—unless one just feels like being an unnecessarily and ostentatiously grammatically and syntactically complicated punkass .
 Look it up an etymological dictionary; that really happened!