Noah Lukeman on the Colon, That Most Majestic of Punctuation Marks . . .

Noah Lukeman portrait.

Noah Lukeman

By Barbara Falconer Newhall

Wow! A book on punctuation. By Noah Lukeman. The bookstore had an entire book  on punctuation by this master of the dot and the dash. My heart lept.

It was called A Dash of Style: The Art and Mastery of Punctuation. I bought it.

I’m a grammar geek, and ever since I read Lukeman’s treatise on the comma — the comma! — in the March/April 2006 issue of  The Writer’s Chronicle, I have been a fan.  A devotee. No, let’s face it, a groupie. This man Lukeman knows  what to do with a comma. Not to mention a period. Or a semicolon. Or my default favorite — the dash.

Take the colon, for example. Maybe you write the colon off as that unassuming pair of dots found on formal business letters, or signalling an upcoming list. And that would be too bad. Because, according to Lukeman, the colon is majestic, dramatic, a writer’s most powerful punctuation tool.

“When it comes to dramatic revelation,” Lukeman writes, “the colon has no second. In this function, the colon acts as a mark point, with the text preceding it building to a revelation, and the text that follows living up to the promise.”

Lukeman suggests comparing this (colonless) sentence:

I grabbed my bag, put on my coat, and stepped out the door, as I wasn’t coming back.

With this one:

I grabbed my bag, put on my coat, and stepped out the door: I wasn’t coming back.

See what I mean?

It’s late. I’m tired. I’m going to bed, and I’m taking Noah Lukeman with me: I want to know what he thinks of the dash.


book jacket for "A Dash of Style" by Noah LukemanA Dash of Style: The Art and Mastery of Punctuation, by Noah Lukeman, W.W. Norton, 2006, paper, $13.95.

If you liked this post, you might enjoy one I wrote about President Obama and rhetoric.


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