creativity a bad case of semi-colonic irritation

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Intestines punctuated this week's postbag on semi-colons. "Colonic irritation," doctor Martin Brown writes, "is a condition brought on by receiving a surfeit of suggestions involving colonic irrigation as a use for semi-colons."

"With a semi-colon," says Alan Joel, "you can digest half your lunch", while according to Mollie Caird: "An infestation of these tiresome little pests can be dispersed by semi-colonic irrigation."

"A semi-colon," writes Geraldine McKay, "would come in extremely useful in Yorkshire where there is a water shortage as you would need only half the amount for colonic irrigation."

Moving on to less bodily matters, Mark Walmsley, quoting from his own monograph, Semi-colons: The Comedy and the Tragedy, points out that there are three semi-colons in Portia's "quality of mercy" speech and seven in Hamlet's "To be or not to be".

Mr Walmsley also informs us that John F Kennedy's favourite semi-colon was from Henry IV Part 1 (full reference on request).

"When attending the Grammatical Pedants' Rave with my friend Gowers," Geoffrey Langley writes, "I found the semi-colon a godsend for avoiding the dreary trailing participle."

Richard Kemp suggests that two dozen semi-colons arranged side by side, alternating with colons, may form the basis of a garden rake for miniature smallholdings. More ideas:

Confetti for pedants' weddings (Paul & Steph); tongue ratchet for those who let glib words slip off too easily, or attach to comb for nit-picking (Fiona & John Earle); breed with semibreves to produce syncopated music (Libby Jones); backscratcher for the wee folk or to introduce subtlety into morse code (AJ Brewer); body punctuation to brighten up your best bits (Sian Cole, complete with diagrams); for appeal court judges to ameliorate long sentences (Maggie Budden & Mark Bell); simple diagram depicting the moment before conception (Alex Hill); add to dough to make a delicious Dotted Dick, brilliant with custard (Harry Karstens); abolish them all and fabricate new ones to use up surplus stocks of commas and full stops; to fence off one reader's creativity from another's, thus preventing cross- pollination of ideas (N James).

Len Clarke's Scottish ancestors teased semi-colons apart and sold them to the English as commas and full stops, but they never did sort out why the ";" is allegedly only half a ":". Prizes to Budden & Bell, Geraldine McKay, Libby Jones.

Next week, escalators. Meanwhile, we seek non-obscene uses for rubber gloves. Ideas to: Creativity, the Independent, 1 Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London E14 5DL. Larousse Dictionary of World Folklore prizes for the best.

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