Colons: the new dash

I tend to liberally pepper my writing with the humble endash (-) or emdash (–) to break up clauses and insert injunctions not worthy of parenthesis or new sentences. But I’m apparently behind the times. It seems the humble colon is the punctuation I need in these situations, it has many functions that I have failed to accommodate:

1. The lister: “The meal requires three ingredients: milk, eggs, and flour.”

2. The talker: “He shouted at the sky: ‘I’m retired!’”

3. The natural extension: “She saw him for what he was: a prodigy.”

4. The juxtaposer: “His face was red: the guests were staring.”

And now:

A new colon is on the march. For now let’s call it the “jumper colon”.

For grammarians, it’s a dependent clause + colon + just about anything, incorporating any and all elements of the other four colons, yet differing crucially in that its pre-colon segment is always a dependent clause.

I love this quote:

“To that end, rules be damned, a new punctuator has been born.

My plan for today:

Totally random thought:

Best meal ever:

That’s the jumper colon. Check out Twitter, Facebook, or Myspace and you’ll find one.

Last night: soooo crazy!

Punctuation can go viral. Syntax is a meme.”

It’s very rare that I ask personal questions here but: how’s your colon use going?

3 Comments Colons: the new dash

  1. KIM

    Interesting … (the ellipses being my punctuation of choice)

    It makes sense and doesn’t feel wrong to me. In fact, it seems like the colon’s now being put to use in written English to mirror spoken speech more accurately. It doesn’t actually seem new, though it very well could be.

    A quibble, though: (did you like that?) were those examples actually dependent clauses? I’m not debating their dependency, but rather their clause-ness. Don’t clauses (of any sort) by definition have to contain a verb? Or is there a new kind of clause, too?

    But overall, my colon use is quite good, thank you. Yours?

  2. Nathan Campbell

    The colon almost seems to be functioning as a verb doesn’t it? Like a verb of equivalence. You can replace it in those examples with an ‘is’ and they’re clauses.

    I’m a serial ellipser. Or ellipseser?

  3. KIM

    Whoa! Punctuation masquerading as a part of speech! Jasper Fforde should totally use that somehow sinister …

    I think you might have to throw in an article or sometimes use “was,” but I definitely see what you’re getting at. Bizarre.

    Ellipser, definitely. It has the right ring to it.

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