Writer and poet Michael Rosen recently took a pot shot at what he calls semi-colon terrorism. He was responding to proposals to introduce grammar tests to English primary schools. His question was how can teachers get the idea of correct semi-colon use over to a class of 11-year-olds?
The debate continued on the other side of the Atlantic. According to Ben Dolnick in the New York Times author Kurt Vonnegut's maxim was:
Do not use semi-colons...All they do is show you've been to college.Dolnick followed Vonnegut's advice until recently but now begs to differ. (Hat-tip to Patrick Neylan for the link).
Personally, I use semi-colons as little as possible. I tend to find myself siding with Vonnegut's point of view when we cover the subject on the regular business writing and editorial courses I run.
Of course, semi-colons have a use. But in most writing where the aim is simple, direct communication - such as in journalism or business documents - I feel you're nearly always better off with a full stop and a new sentence. Besides, not all readers understand them anyway.
Not sure how to use a semi-colon? Take a look at these tips from The Oatmeal plus a few thoughts from Grammar Girl.