“Yesterday Mr. Hall wrote that the printer’s proof-reader was improving my punctuation for me, & I telegraphed orders to have him shot without giving him time to pray.” ~ Samuel Langhorne Clemens, 1889
(The following is mostly from a previous conversation thread with some intelligent writers who show concern for this sort of thing.)
The subsequent material and comments use sentences, clauses, phrases, and words, and perhaps with some divergence from standards and rules. I don’t care about that, as long as you are able to get the gist of it. That’s all I’ll have to say about grammar here, and would not have even said that much if it weren’t for the title. If you are expecting some narrative about grandmothers, you can stop reading now. The rest of this is devoted to the little marks on written and printed pages that do not consist of the letters of the alphabet.
Some think the colon is overused. The reference here is with the punctuation mark rather than the final section of your digestive system. How much, and for what reasons you may choose to use your digestive system is of no concern to me, so we will not discuss it further here. But as for the punctuating colon, I use it without concern that it will cause any harm, and have never known one to have a spasm. A colon tends to slow the traffic momentarily, as do commas and other cute little fun things that can be drawn with a pencil. They behave as speed bumps do, and are placed there intentionally. I’ve checked with four major insurance carriers on this, and there is no record of a misplaced colon ever causing so much as a flat tire, much less a serious accident.
I carry a bagful of punctuators (including a generous supply of colons) with me wherever I go. They come in handy eavesdropping, especially when others are on their phones talking in such a hurry. I leave them all around the house even when the grandchildren are over without any anxiety whatsoever. I even allow the dogs to chew on them, as they’re inexpensive, non toxic, and so easy to replace, that it would be a shame to spoil their fun.
Not only is it okay to use them, it’s fun. Colons, semicolons, commas, parentheses, exclamation points, and quotation marks are marvelous toys, and all have a place if the use of them communicates what a writer is intending. I suppose there would be room for concern if the opposite were true. If using punctuation were to make something unclear, or confuse the reader, it’s probably best to leave it out unless the intent is to be unclear or mislead the reader. Leave that sort of thing to the bobble-heads that write political commentary.
Then, there is the price of ink. I’m sure with inflation, colons could eventually cost up to a dollar a piece. But in such an economy as that, a cup of coffee might cost about sixty-five million bucks. So those with the means to enjoy such extravagance might continue to drink coffee, anyway.
I wish to add a brief note about exclamation points: the pointy ones are dangerous if you fall on them, and you could poke your eye out. They can be used as darts, especially during heated dialogue, and can be used to cut other people short. So, as a weapon, I would agree some care should be taken with them, especially when they are points.
I carry exclamation “markers”, instead (referred to as “exclamation marks” in the vernacular). The beauty of the exclamation marker is it comes in handy if your pen goes dry; they’re wonderful for graffiti, and tend to be less dangerous if you fall on them.
But don’t be deceived into believing they’re entirely harmless. They can give the appearance of a formidable billy club, and can be used as such. But you’ll probably tire yourself out trying to knock anyone out with one, as exclamation marks are much softer than exclamation points. The other thing to keep in mind, should you hit someone with one, is they tend to make a cartoonish “Boink-Boink” sound followed by obnoxious giggles when coming in contact with noggins.
Currently there is some research going on here in my laboratory that could lead to the development of an alternate to the exclamation point. Instead of just adding emphasis, it actually makes the statement that precedes it clear, precise, and understandable. My colleagues and I are toying with the idea of labeling it (branding, if you will): “The Explanation Point”.
I expect to become quite wealthy selling these, as one alone following a topic sentence will clarify the intent entirely. That could replace any need for a six-thousand word essay, and shorten some rather boring textbooks to a single page.
But the real benefit to society, for which I will expect you to nominate me for several significant world prizes, will be the elimination of so much excessive organic mulch being spread where it isn’t wanted during times of general elections. The use of “Explanation Points” (patent pending) will serve to convert all political campaign advertisements to the simple statement: “I am an idiot”, and have it immediately understood and believed. This will allow the politician to go home, and not appear in public anymore where they tend to block traffic, stir up hatred and confusion, and generate mob terror by convincing folks of the potential threats of a series of outrageous but entirely imaginary hobgoblins.
No colon was harmed while typing this comment. However, the game warden has advised me I did reach the bag limit on commas, including the two used in this sentence.