Personally, I blame the Oxford Comma. Rather, I blame the Oxford Comma, and Judge David Langham for his extensive analysis of this little thought about punctuation practice. Judge Langham wrote a rather extensive review of a legal case recently, discussing the confusion and controversy surrounding the absence of an “Oxford Comma”. He explained that an “Oxford” is a “shorthand reference to the use of a comma before a conjunction (and, but, or; remember School House Rock?) in any series.” You can read all about it here.
For dunderheads like myself, who had never heard of the Oxford Comma, it was a chance to mark the “learned something new today” box on our daily planner.
This got me to thinking, what of other punctuation marks, and their contribution to legal chaos and confusion over the years? Certainly, other cases have hung in the balance based on the thoughtless placement of a period, semi-colon or comma (Oxford or otherwise). I don’t recall seeing an exclamation point in many state regulations. I suppose it would be possible – if the legislators really meant something.
And what of the lowly colon? What is its contribution to the cause of legal misunderstanding? But first we should understand what the properly intentioned use of a colon is. For that I turned to my exceptional research skills, which happened to produce the following as the very first search result on Google. According to someone called the “Grammar Girl”, “The most important thing to remember about colons is that you only use them after statements that are complete sentences. Never use a colon after a sentence fragment. For example, it’s correct to say, “Grammar Girl has two favorite hobbies: watching clouds and seeing how long she can stand on one foot.”
Thank you, Grammar Girl. I don’t know what I would have done without you.
With that portion of the study concluded, I turned my elaborate research abilities towards finding legal cases that ended up hanging in the balance over a misplaced, improperly used, or altogether missing colon. Apparently, there are not any: but I found many cases involving people name “Colon”. There was State v. Colon and Martinez v. Colon. There was Barnes v. Colon and Colon v. Cancer; although that last one might have been a medical book.
That presents the other problem associated with researching the term “colon”. I can personally recommend that you should never use the search phrases “Problems due to a missing colon” or “Issues with an improperly used colon”. Researching this topic will also provide ample reasons on why one probably shouldn’t have skipped their colonoscopy during one’s last physical.
But it could produce no court cases that hinged on an improperly used colon. Seriously, and I got all the way into page three of the search results. Going all out in research is just what I do.
So, it turns out there was no reason to write this article, except to tell you that if your last name is Colon there is a good chance you are going to end up in court over something. Also, we found that you should not abuse your colon, and always use your colon the way it was intended. Trust me, we don’t want to have to come back here and visit this particular topic again. And we really don’t want to piss of Grammar Girl: that would just be ugly.
There is one more thing we can be thankful for. It turns out that a colon is a good place to pull a story from, when you wake up on a Monday and have absolutley nothing useful to say.