11.29.2006

high colonic

faithful rsgo reader ian lovett left me a really wonderful note just now, and i think both it and my response are worthy of being dragged screaming out of the perdition that is "comments: 4" and granted the pinnochiatic pleasure of becoming a real post.

dear helen,

first off, let me (re)-introduce myself. my name is ian lovett. I'm a senior at amherst college who should have graduated already and on-again-off-again boyfriend of one neda maghbouleh. according to neda, you and i have met. sadly, this meeting supposedly happened 3 years ago, the same day i met 9878798987 other friends of hers, so i don't remember you (or anyone else i met that day) specifically. sorry.

i any case, i have been a fan of your blog for quite a while now, and i'm glad to see you're back in the swing of things after that long hiatus. the mcewan v. visiwanathan post was particularly excellent.

however, there is one incredibly minor tendency in your writing that continues to bug me: your use of colons after verbs. the wonderful thing about the colon is that it can mean just about anything you want it to mean: it can signify an elaboration is forthcoming, or a list, or simply a restatement or explanation.

but you cannot use a colon anywhere you like, which is to say, a colon cannot directly follow a verb. or a preposition. so the sentencce "This is on grounds of: the total number of words used in the titles of ALL his novels is: 21" is actually stuck in some grammatical state of nature. (also, two colons in the same sentence just. looks. weird). if you eliminated the first colon altogether (it has no reason to be there), and left out the "is" after "novel" (as you do in the following sentence) that would solve the problem. or you could replace the colon with an ellipsis. but the ellipsis is lame, i know.

you write far too well to keep making this simple mistake. apologies if this is the stupidest, most annoying post you've ever gotten. my thesis is due in a week, i just finished a full draft, and now i have only editing left to do. so, naturally, i am editing writing for people who don't want/need my help instead of editing my own.

best,

ian


my dear ian,

your comment is far from the stupidest, most annoying post i've ever gotten. on the contrary: your attention to the nuances of punctuation warms the cockles (or are cockles lifted?) of my sly little heart.

you're correct that there are restrictions on the usage of a colon; however, you're incorrect that they're defined by the role of the preceding word. if i remember correctly, according to CMS a colon cannot be used in the following instances:

1. in a list, when the antecedent clause comprises the first portion of what, when coupled with any item from the list, creates a full sentence.

2. when nominatively addressing an audience ("my dear companions"), in such times when the remarks following the address are greater than one sentence.

The former of these two is likely the one you're referring to as regards prepositions and verbs, since these sorts of lists in question tend to fill in either the predicate or the prepositional phrase of a sentence. So you're correct, yes, that my use of "on the grounds of:" is incorrect, since the list that follows (a one-item list, but a list nonetheless) relies upon its introducing clause to make sense.

my tendency to insert colons hither and thither, though, is not so much a manifestation of any lack of punctuational knowledge on my part; rather, it's simply a quirk of the tone of thought in which i blog. it's well documented that the internet is the grammatical equivalent of uncharted territory: run-on sentences, the disgusting habit of using "u" for "you," the TWOP-propagated elision of verbs of potentiality ("which? gross."), entire missives written sans capitalization, &c. in fact, perhaps the most exciting grammatical evolution engendered by the internet is an increasing acceptance of irregular - yet logical - punctuation, as illustrated here:

but you cannot use a colon anywhere you like, which is to say, a colon cannot directly follow a verb. or a preposition.

that second sentence really ought to be preceded by a comma, oughtn't it? but nonetheless the sentence fragment parses smoothly. never mind that the first comma ought to be a semicolon.

i suppose what i'm trying to say here is: half the time when i use colons incorrectly, i do it because i'm not thinking about the rules. the other half of the time? i don't care.

yours, warmly,

helen

7 comments:

Marc Fishman said...

Helen, your inexplicable command of language, grammer, food, wine, and all things related to or otherwise discussed simply deflates my own self worth down to something resembling the cardboard box hobos live in. I generally have a rather egotistical take on life (as in I try to be a blowhard, but consistantly fail) but generally a simple stop at the ready steady go blog assures me that no matter how great an argument I can propose as to why Green Lantern could effectively render virtually any foe assunder... (excuse my lameness in using an elipses) all it takes is a jaunt to rsgo.blogspot.com to pop my self inflated balloon as you almost effortlessly pontificate on lace leggings or someone with the same first name, and in those words make me realize I have a box top education, live in Indiana, and don't know shit from shinola.

:)

Enjoy yer day babe.

Sincerely,
Marc Alan Fishman

p.s. I use my middle name in a manner that says "I wish I were snooty enough to pull off Marc Alan as a pen name, but more than likely will choose to hide under my parent monicker or Unshaven Comics Co-President).

Paulitheism said...

Ah-ha, but Strunk and White agree with your interlocutor about colons following verbs/prepositions. "[A colon] usually follows an independent clause and should not separate a verb from its complement or a preposition from its object."

Strunk and White, of course, outrank Chicago. Because, Strunk and White.

helen said...

pauli, i'm not saying my interlocutor is wrong. i'm saying that i don't care.

and yes, strunk and white > chicago.

colon cleansing products said...

ummmm right. Helen, forget him, that was the most ridiculous comment i have ever seen! i think you write incredible, simple as that. Especially one that made me laught was one titled PANTS=FOUND i think..

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Bull shit. We all have this much time on our hands. He just used it to make something.
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