I’ve been having a problem with my colons.  Yes, plural.

You see, I like this: “I say.”

But my recent editor (who I shall keep nameless to avoid Andy getting embarrassed) objects to them.  Colons.  Really objects.  So much so that he removed them all and went for full stops and commas.

This is the more traditional way of punctuating dialogue.

Let me show you, I could say, “This is a second example.”

It’s that awkward comma followed by a capital.  The sentence starts with ‘Let’, but then there’s a second full sentence starting with ‘This’.

I could say.  “This and use a full stop.”

But the speech tag ends and isn’t connected to the dialogue.  In theatre, you just give the character’s name and then what they say.

David: Like this.

But that doesn’t signify the actual words spoken aloud.  Whereas:

Earnestine: “One could say this.”

Works fine, I think.  (Yes, double quotes rather than single, but then that’s another debate.)

It’s a reaction against ‘said bookism’.  This strange expression derives from when door-to-door salesman used to go around America selling books of alternative words for ‘said’.  With this volume, you could then articulate with greater eloquence and therefore sound educated.  It’s nonsense, because people don’t actually read the word ‘said’, it’s a form of punctuation.  Indeed, alternatives culled from the thesaurus stick out and break the flow.  They should be used sparingly if there’s a really good reason, say, if the character SHOUTS or whispers.

So, why not go the whole hog and use punctuation: “Like this.”

Having had a go at Americans, their method of punctuation when the speech tag follows makes more sense.

“This is how we do it,” said the Limey, “and there’s no argument.”

“Uh-uh, put the comma after the quotes”, said the Yank, “and not before.”

You see, the phrase spoken in both those examples doesn’t have a comma in the middle.  If you remove the speech tag, you also need to exorcise the comma.  Whereas, across the pond, the commas bracket the sub-clause of the speech tag.  It makes more sense.

However, I went to a posh school, so there’s no way I can do that.

So, colons then, I say: “What you do you think?”


2 thoughts on “Colonoscopy

  1. David.

    Pulling a couple of novels off my shelf at random, I found examples of the following use:

    I turned to the doctor and said, “What you done to my colon?”

    rather than

    I turned to the doctor and said: “What you done to my colon?”

    I couldn’t find anything in Strunk and White, but Giles Brandreth in his excellent book Have You Eaten Grandma? gives an example using the comma.


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