I was recently having colon trouble (the grammatical kind, not the medical kind) and so consulted with my favorite Expert on the English Language. She didn’t have good news for me: turns out I have been mistreating my fun, flexible friend The Colon for a few years now.
For the record, if you’re trying to be a proper Englishman, a colon should only be used in the written word following a complete sentence, and the first word after a colon should not be capitalized unless it’s a proper noun.
I don’t know how long I’ve been abusing my colon privileges, but since I started blogging I’ve definitely noticed it’s one of my favorite punctuation marks. I’ve been slipping it into my tall tales almost flippantly, here and there and everywhere, thinking I’m being sassy and smart. The colon is almost an enabler in my life: he lets me keep on being naughty, breaking good old standard English class rules, writing any way I please… and the average non-English-nerd never has any idea I’m being bad.
For instance, I might use a colon in this way:
But then this happened:
I got to feeling insecure about my use of colons when I realized I had no real rules for when I was using them. I feel that colons are very useful in my conversational style of writing, and would guess that the untrained eye doesn’t even notice my unpredictable placement of them. However, I became concerned that my fellow editors who have absolutely nothing better to do and so are reading my blog, and also my favorite Expert on the English Language and other Experts, might be judging me because of my colon problem.
So, again, I consulted. She delivered the bad news. I mean the real rules. And you know what? I’m going to try to use colons correctly from now on. I need to be a good example for a whole new generation of writers.
Or: Maybe I’m not. Maybe I’m just going to keep on using colons any ol’ way I want, because everyone needs at least one fun and flexible and at-the-ready friend… right?
Anyhow, let me introduce you to my favorite Expert on the English Language, who is not flexible when it comes to things like this because she is a high school English teacher. Her name is Tichelle, and we’ve been friends since 1982. Here we are at my baby shower:
I’m the baby in the middle, the crying one. We’re pictured with our third amigo (and Tichelle’s cousin) Billie. The three of us have a story that extends way farther back than 1982. Our grandmas are long-time friends, and so are our folks.
Growing up, Billie attended a different school, but Tichelle and I were in it to win it together from kindergarten upward. As girls do, we had lots of ups and downs along the way, but at the end of the day we were always still the Two Ts, as her mom called us. The photo above dictates that. You can’t just ditch someone who’s known you since you were in diapers.
Here we are in, I believe, the third grade:
My first sleepover was at Tichelle’s house. We got snowed in at her house that night, and I cried so shamelessly that my mom had to bust through the snowdrifts to come get me. I will have you know that I did better at future sleepovers, though.
And here we are at our eighth grade graduation with the other girls in our class. Each one of them is a story in her own right:
Tichelle calls me The Keeper of the Memories. She thinks it’s a little silly that I save and keep dragging out all these old photos. Just when she thinks we’ve buried the hatchet on a subject, I bring it up again.
Here we are, below, in high school on some sort of school spirit day. This photo is funny because we weren’t cheerleaders at all; we were basketball stars. Actually, she was the basketball star, and I was more like her deranged sidekick. (Think Doc Holliday: a little bit fun, a little bit disconcerting, a lot sweaty. Oops, there I go with the colon again.) Anyhow, we liked to make fun of cheerleaders because we were certain they weren’t doing anything nearly as important as we basketball players were:
Tichelle and I went to two different colleges but in the same town. We lived in a townhouse with other girls for our sophomore and junior years. Here we are trying on new shades at the grocery store with our roommates Randi and Amy:
And here we are the night before I married Beau (he’s the horizontal one), with Randi again and with a grown-up Billie:
And finally — I promise this is the last of the memory-drudging-photos — here we are when we both worked as editors for Pat Goggins, she for the Western Livestock Reporter and I for Agri-News. We were dressed up for a formal evening fundraising event in Billings for which none of the other guests dressed formally. Don’t you hate it when that happens? We were all like, People, can’t you just follow directions? We would feel a lot less silly if you had.
A note on our editing jobs: We are both lovers of the English language but in different ways (there I go with a naughty colon again. I can’t help myself). We went through 13 years of school together, attending all the same English classes, and we both took to English and its many applications thanks especially to a very good high school English teacher. Always the grounded one, Tichelle went on to become an English teacher herself, while I went on to pursue an imaginary writing career (imaginary because my readers exist mostly in my mind and also because I’m not making any money). We are different because she is extremely well-read, a lover of literature, dedicated to guiding young minds to appreciation of rules involving citations, prepositional phrases, and punctuation. And I… well, I love the English language too, but more in this way: I like to hear myself talk, even if it’s on the glowing screen.
(As an aside, I’ll take a moment to mention I’ve noticed Tichelle doesn’t edit her text messages anymore. She says that the modern kids are a bad influence on her, that they and auto-correct are turning our language into a gobbledygook conglomeration of slang and shortcuts and acronyms. She herself is weakening under the pressure to be cool and use improper English and think that any typewritten blunder can be fixed with an emoticon and multiple exclamation points. I think she, like many of us, is concerned that the subtleties of proper English are drifting like smoke out the window of a moving car.)
How’s that for a metaphor? I made that one up myself.
When we were editors together, if ever I got ahold of a story that Tichelle had written (which she only allowed to happen a time or two), I could quickly double the length of it simply by added flowery adjectives and interesting details which made her uncomfortable.
She is a much more private person than I am, so I was a good girl and asked her permission to put photos of her on my blog. I promised her everything would be tasteful and flattering. She, in turn, pointed out that my style of writing does not exactly lend itself to flattery.
Touché. She’s honest, and I appreciate that about her. A person needs a brutally honest friend in her life. And I think our history nurtures that sort of honesty. We’ve been there and done that together, and though our lives have led us down two different roads, we’ll always remain friends. Our genetics dictate it. The baby picture above dictates it. We go a long way back, the two of us.
Be like me today and take a moment to thank your favorite Expert on the English Language… for reminding you that rules are in place for a reason.
© Tami Blake