Brief Origin of the Modern Colon The word colon comes from the Greek term kōlon, meaning a part of a verse or clause, or more literally, part of a limb, particularly a leg.
As previously explained in the lessons about the colon’s cousins, commas, periods, and semicolons, author Keith Houston explains in the colon originated during the third century B.C., in the Hellenic Egyptian city of Alexandria, during a time when the spoken word was the most powerful form of communication ( The Mysterious Origins of Punctuation
). Texts were written without spaces or punctuation marks—and was infuriating to read. Enter our formerly mentioned Greek playwright Aristophanes, who had enough and began what Houston calls the “punctuational big bang.” in his book, Shady Characters
Aristophane’s “punctuation big bang” evolved throughout the centuries to become the modern versions we currently use, established by the aforementioned Italian printer extraordinaire, Aldus Manutius, who revolutionized it along with printing in 1494. While the colon got an extra dot, it’s remarkable how much has stuck around. “That’s because historically typography is mistakenly considered a technique, not an art, but in reality it is as much an art as many other Italian treasures.” In Aldus’s time, it also had a profound purpose: to promote reading as a more common pursuit, and to spread knowledge as widely as possible. Now, I’m a Poetic Medic; let’s have a look at that colon:
Simply put, a colon introduces an element ( or series of elements ) that illustrates ( or amplifies ) the information that preceded the colon. Unlike a semicolon which joins two independent clauses, a colon directs you to the information following it ( although a colon can, indeed, join to independent clauses as we'll further explore ). When to use a Colon
Just as the semicolon, some writers are confused about colon placement; however, its function is straightforward. We thought of the semicolon as a bridge between two closely related sentences; therefore, think of the colon as a traffic symbol, like a flashing arrow pointing to the information following it. 1. It typically gives the silent impression of “as follows,” “which is,” “and [ they ]/ are [ as follows ],” or “thus.” • There are three types of poetic form
( and they are ) : free verse, sonnet, and acrostic.
Note how the colon replaces “ and they are ” to signal a sequence of poetic forms you are about to learn the sentence already mentioned. 2. Use with lists to signal further clarification: • Tallen has two options here
( and they are ): eat leftovers, or drive to a Mexican restaurant.
Notice how the colon has replace “ and they are ” to signal further clarification. 3. Introducing a quotation *** • JohnnyBlaze ended with the immortal words of Stephen King: “Either get busy living or get busy dying.” ***The colon MUST be preceded by a complete sentence in this case. If not preceded by a complete sentence, then a comma is appropriate. • JohnnyBlaze’s belief is, “Either get busy living or get busy dying”, a quote by Stephen King. 4. Separating Independent Clauses
Just as a semicolon, a colon can also separate two independent clauses if the second clause is directly ( vs vaguely ) related to the first clause; and, when the emphasis is on the second clause. The colon is a little softer than the period, but a little harder than the semicolon. • Sky_dancer doesn’t really dance in the sky: she is a human female.
( directly related ) • The research is inconclusive: Wh1skeyswagger may or may not actually swagger.
( emphasis on second clause ) Notation:
Styles differ per country; in America it is best to capitalize the first word after a colon, if what follows forms two or more complete sentences. In British English, the word following a colon is not capitalized unless it is a proper noun or an acronym. [N]omoth has three film recommendations: First, The Lighthouse, starring Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson. Second, "Horse Girl" starring Alison Brie. Third, one upcoming with Gary Oldman he can’t remember. Notation:
You can read more on capitalization after colons on Grammarly's blog: https://www.grammarly.com/blog/capitalization-after-colons/ 5. How to misuse a colon:
• Separate a noun from its verb:
• Separate a verb from its object:
• Separate a subject from its predicate: Always remember a colon should precede a list only when what precedes the colon is a complete sentence.