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Colonic Irrigation?

February 16, 2018

No, not that….just a 'refresher' on the use of the colon in punctuation.

Before a list

This is the easy one.  Most people get it right.  We’ll take the Winter Olympics as our inspiration.

I flew to Korea, taking with me: salopettes, three sets of skis, my best snowboard and a crash helmet.

Before direct speech

Less obvious.  You don’t need a colon in front of all direct speech; but it seems right to introduce it when the speech goes on for several lines.  Here a simple comma before the direct speech would not seem sufficient.

One of Eddie the Eagle’s first ski jump coaches said of him:  “When Eddie came to sign the waiver forms in my office in Lake Placid in 1986, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. He was old, chunky, had never jumped before, and was wearing the thickest glasses I had ever seen. I remember thinking, “Why is he here?” I couldn’t take him seriously. He didn’t have a single item of equipment. I had to give him an old helmet that didn’t have a strap, which he fastened with a bit of string, and some ski boots that were so big he had to wear them with five pairs of socks. I won’t lie. There was not a single second when I thought he was capable of making it to the Olympics.’

Before a ‘revelation’

…..I’m not quite sure how else to put this.  A colon can fulfill a promise in the narrative to reveal or explain something - it comes after the promise and before its fulfillment. 

Here are two examples: (this being a third!)


There was a reason one lone snowboarder crossed the finishing line that day:  all her competitors had been involved in a pile-up.

Only one national team showed a real sense of style in their Olympic outfits this year
:  the Nigerians, who looked fabulous in their white coats with green trim and green headdresses.

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