Whether it’s truly the newest coin of the realm, I don’t know, but I hereby christen it Word of the Day. Exemplar of the geek joys regularly dispensed by New York Magazine’s Sam Anderson, it refers to the exuberant (or compulsive or pathological) use of semicolons.
Anderson births his neologism in a May 4 review of Aleksandar Hemon’s The Lazarus Project. With Hemon, writes Anderson, the semicolon is “less a punctuation mark than a total aesthetic program.” Which sounds bad, but Anderson thinks it works for Hemon. As for the semicolon itself, Anderson characterizes it as
a tweener—an awkward Frankenstein of the comma (which it overpowers) and the period (which overpowers it) whose job is almost touchingly slight: It fuses clauses that would otherwise stand on their own as independent sentences; it makes hybrids of self-sufficient phrases; it imposes semantic dual citizenship.
(It also serves to divide items in a series when commas are being used for other purposes, as in the penultimate sentence below.)
Invented by Italian printer Aldus Manutius (1449-1515), the semicolon has a nice pedigree. English authors of the 17th and 18th centuries seem to have preferred it to the period. But my own unscientific survey of friends and coworkers suggests the semicolon has fallen into latter-day disrepute. For some it’s an object of fear or confusion; for others, an instrument of schoolmarmish torture.
But, see, even the rack has its uses.