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I have seen some writing where people have a list or a figure in writing and they will write something like this:

The information is provided in Image 3:-

Is that correct? Is this a British style?

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Wow, I've never seen that before. Where is this currently happening? –  Monica Cellio Jun 22 '11 at 18:23
I've never seen this before in my life. –  Kosmonaut Jun 22 '11 at 19:17
What is that? Some kind of weird unicorn-walrus emoticon? Narwhal? –  ghoppe Jun 22 '11 at 20:25
That looks like a typo. The dash contributes nothing and should be eliminated. –  Mike DeSimone Jun 22 '11 at 21:03
I've seen this rarely, but consistently (i.e. if I saw it in some body of text, it's everywhere where I'd have used a simple colon). My guess is that it's a regional thing, but I can't really place it. –  Joachim Sauer Oct 29 '12 at 15:11

4 Answers 4

According to Nick Marten's The Secret History of Typography in the Oxford English Dictionary, a colon followed by a dash is a typographical mark that the OED refers to as the dog's bollocks:

Citing usage from 1949, the OED calls this mark the dog’s bollocks, which it defines as, “typogr. a colon followed by a dash, regarded as forming a shape resembling the male sexual organs.” This is why I love scrounging around the linguistic scrap heap that is the OED. I always come across a little gold. And by “gold,” I mean, “vulgar, 60-year-old emoticons.”

Marten does not further elaborate on its purported usage, but others do:

In Britain the exclamation mark is sometimes referred to as a dog’s prick, and that, further, the combination of a colon and a dash (:—), out of fashion now but long used to represent a restful pause, is known as a dog’s bollocks.

Modern style guides seem intent on banishing its usage to history. For example, the University of Sussex has a strong opinion on the matter:

The colon [is] never preceded by a white space; it is always followed by a single white space in normal use, and it is never, never, never followed by a hyphen or a dash — in spite of what you might have been taught in school.

I'd love to find some examples in print, but as you can imagine:— it's extraordinarily difficult to google.

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When OED cites something this ridiculous, it becomes super-double-plus funny. –  horatio Oct 20 '11 at 18:06
-1 "...in spite of what you might have been taught in school." How could it have come to be taught in school? There must be a time not so long ago when it was normal, if not the prescribed notation. I fail to see how the elaborate discussion is related to the question at hand. See Marcin's answer. –  Kris Oct 29 '12 at 15:11
Indeed, this answer seems to raise more questions than it answers. Clearly, for this usage to have been taught in schools, it must've been common (and likely even prescribed) style somewhere at some point. When did it change, and why? –  Ilmari Karonen Jul 31 at 9:00

It's correct, because it is a recognised, well-known usage. However, it is redundant, and in most situations not the best or right usage. I would only use it where there is an established convention for its usage, such as in certain court documents.

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When you say, "it is a recognised, well-known usage", do you have some examples? As the OP suggested, perhaps it's used in the UK? I've never seen it in 40+ years of reading, including in court documents, but I'm in the US. –  Matthew Frederick Jun 22 '11 at 19:24
@Matthew Frederick: Nothing to hand. I've seen it in old mathematics and computer science papers. The only place I see it now is in certain court documents, where it is conventional to use it, such as after the opening line of a witness statement or affidavit. –  Marcin Jun 22 '11 at 19:28
Think it used to be more common in the UK. Am guessing that it is now not used so much as part of a general trend to simplify punctuation. –  Neil Coffey Jun 22 '11 at 20:59
@Neil Coffey: I think it is supposed to be stronger than an ordinary colon. –  Marcin Jun 22 '11 at 21:02
For an example, there's the Christian Brothers' Irish Grammar, which uses an em dash not only after a colon (if a list follows), but also after a period, with the force of a colon. So instead of “Note: Blahblah”, they write “Note.—Blahblah”. –  Janus Bahs Jacquet Jul 2 '14 at 0:11

English documents written in India often use :-. For example:

(These quotes are merely illustrative and not meant to prove that :- is commonly used in India; however, I have read a number of English documents written in India and can assure you that :- is far more prevalent there than in the US.)

I do not know why :- is common in India (British influence, maybe?), but there you have it. My impression is that :- is used to introduce a list, and : is used in all other circumstances. If somebody could get their hands on a style guide used by the Indian government (if such a thing even exists ― it probably doesn't), that would probably shed some light on this.

The interested reader who seeks additional examples may wish to consult this Stack Exchange Data Explorer query, which identifies instances of :- on Hinduism.SE (which is, of course, largely populated by Indian users).

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The enacting formula of UK Acts of Parliaments (e.g. here's a recent example) ends with a colon followed by what appears to be an em-dash.

Looking around this page, colon + hyphen appears to be common to a number of Commonwealth and British territories, though there are exceptions to that rule (e.g. Phillipines).

Usage in legislation would seem to indicate that it is indeed "proper" to use punctuation in this way. The fact that its use is mainly (though not exclusively) in countries with a British connection suggests that it may be more a British style than a non-British one.

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protected by RegDwigнt Jan 2 '13 at 11:51

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