Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Who Knew?

My son decided to read A Clockwork Orange for his research paper and I, seeing the book lying around picked it up to glance inside. I later read it in all it's glory (and rather enjoyed it immensely) but some things about it left me "grammatically" scratching my head. More specifically Anthony Burgess's use of colons in dialogue. Now I'm not a "stickler" for such things but I like to think I've a good sense about what is correct and what is grammatically incorrect. Yet never before had I "noticed" this odd use of colons in dialogue. Oddly enough I picked up an Agatha Christy book just today and noticed the same use of colons. Here's a partial sentence from A Clockwork Orange that drove me crazy.

Georgie said: 'Offence is neither here or elsewhere. . . .'  

Well I immediately began searching around for the answer, deciding I had to know what this "colon" business was all about. Also I didn't want to bother my editor who actually works for a living and doesn't need me bugging her for every little thing that bothers me. :)

Here is what I FINALLY found. 

The Quick Answer: You are safe to make the decision on whether to use a colon, a comma, or nothing after an introduction (e.g., He said, She shouted) before a quotation. If you're still unsure which to use, follow this guideline: Use a colon before a quotation of more than 6 words. Use a comma before a quotation of 6 words or fewer.

Using a Colon before a Quotation Writers often ask whether they should use a comma, a colon, or nothing when introducing a quotation. Quotations are often introduced with terms like He said, She whispered, and They shouted. Such an introduction can be followed by a comma or a colon to separate it from the quotation, or it can be followed by nothing (i.e., just a space followed by the first quotation mark). There is a lot of leniency on this, especially in creative writing, and writers should choose the punctuation that gives them their desired flow of text. That said, there is a useful guideline which states you should use a colon when introducing a quotation of more than 6 words, and a comma for a shorter quotation. This guideline removes the need to think about which punctuation to use. 

It's not a grammar rule. It's just a widely accepted style. Examples: The minister shouted: "Do not worry. The next time I stand up here, I will have answers to these questions."

The largest of the aliens repeatedly insisted: "We come in peace. Take me to your leader."

The referee yelled: "not on my pitch...off!" (This quotation only has five words. Therefore, under the guideline, it should be preceded by a comma.) (Remember, this is not wrong grammatically, but it doesn't follow the guideline explained on this page.)

The priestess whispered: "Take them to the pit." (This quotation only has five words. Therefore, under the guideline, it should be preceded by a comma.)
So there you have it writers and for all those inquiring minds--"You're welcome!" Writing is my business so I like to know as much about it as possible. 

Write on!

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