Colons take over at alarming rate

An article on The Millions suggests that, far from becoming extinct, colons are running
rampant thanks to a new use not found in any existing grammar books.

The article begins with a quote from Lynn Truss, author of Eats, Shoots and Leaves. “It is sad to think people are no longer learning how to use the colon, not least because, in this supreme QWERTY keyboard era, the little finger of the human right hand, deprived of its traditional function, may eventually dwindle and drop off from disuse.” 

Millions writer Conor J. Dillon starts listing the instances of colon use he’s seen popping up, writing:

“Colons, once on life support, are proliferating.


“Because these aren’t Ms. Truss’s colons. The colons of Eats, Shoots and Leaves, are brittle, dusty, soporific. “Prepare yourself,” they yawn, “that I may shortly provide you a list.” To actually call these colons by name (syntactical-deductive, appositive, etc.) is to virtually lose consciousness. So bear with me for a moment as we first rechristen our colons.”

Dillon offers up the list:

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.”

“Most of us stop with number 1. At the other end of the spectrum is number 4, the juxtaposer, which has been variously replaced by periods (correctly), commas (incorrectly), dashes (who knows?), and semicolons (for the writing class or the bored).”

Dillon identifies a 5th, increasingly common use: 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.


“For everyone else: its usefulness lies in that it lifts you up and into a sentence you never thought you’d be reading by giving you a compact little nugget of information prior to the colon and leaving you on the hook for whatever comes thereafter, often rambling on until the reader has exhausted his/her theoretical lung capacity and can continue to read no longer.


“See how fast that goes? The jumper colon is a paragraphical Red Bull, a rocket-launch of a punctuator, the Usain Bolt of literature. It’s punchy as hell. To believers of short first sentences–Hemingway?–it couldn’t get any better. To believers of long-winded sentences that leave you gasping and slightly confused–Faulkner?–it also couldn’t get any better. By itself this colon is neither a period nor a non-period… or rather it is a period and it is also a non-period. You choose.”