Aldus Manutius explains it as a sort of compromise: the semi-circle (i.e. comma), he says, doesn't give a long enough pause, whereas the double point (i.e. the colon) slows up the speech too much.
Punctuation guides interpretation, indicating relationships and nuances in a text. Because punctuation performs these three different functions in a written text, Humanists marked texts heavily and invented new marks (the semi-colon, the exclamation point, the question mark, parentheses).
The semi colon
The Semicolon “ Sometimes you get a glimpse of a semicolon coming, a few lines farther on, and it is like climbing a steep path through woods and seeing a wooden bench just at a bend in the road ahead, a place where you can expect to sit for a moment, catching your breath .” Lewis Thomas (American Physician and Writer, 1913-1993)
<ul><li>The Italian printer, Aldus Manutius the elder, was the first to use the semicolon to separate words opposed in meaning and to mark off interdependent statements </li></ul>
In 1560, it was introduced into English. A London printer, Henry Denham, used semicolons regularly; we can see them in the publication of “A Golden Chaine” by Thomas Rogers
<ul><li>The earliest general use of the semicolon occurred in 1591. Shakespeare's sonnets contains semicolons, but Ben Jonson was the first English writer of note to use the semicolon systematically. </li></ul><ul><li>By the late 18th century , the semicolon had gained widespread acceptance throughout Europe. </li></ul>
<ul><li>Here lies, to each her parents' ruth, Mary, the daughter of their youth; Yet all heaven's gifts being heaven's due, It makes the father less to rue. At six months' end, she parted hence With safety of her innocence; Whose soul heaven's queen, </li></ul><ul><li>Whose name she bears, In comfort of her mother's tears, Hath placed amongst her virgin-train: Where, while that severed doth remain, This grave partakes the fleshly birth; Which cover lightly, gentle earth! </li></ul>From The Works of Ben Jonson (1616) On My First Daughter Ben Jonson
<ul><li>Most punctuation marks were invented to aid speaking in public, but the semi-colon is uniquely an aid to reading </li></ul><ul><li>The semi-colon indicates both connection and division . It is a gentle way of connecting thoughts, without applying the abrupt brake of a full stop or the breathiness of a comma. </li></ul><ul><li>Sometimes a string of semi-colons shows an evolving idea or description, a string of interconnected ideas. </li></ul>
Uses of the Semi-colon <ul><li>Use a semicolon between closely-related independent clauses : </li></ul><ul><ul><li>"I went to the swimming pool; I was told it was closed for scheduled maintenance." </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Use a semicolon between independent clauses linked with a transitional word/phrase : </li></ul><ul><ul><li>"I like to eat cows; however, they don't like to be eaten by me." </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Use a semicolon between items in a series containing internal punctuation: </li></ul><ul><li>"There are several Waffle Houses in Atlanta, Georgia; Greenville, South Carolina; Gainesville, Florida; and Mobile, Alabama." </li></ul>