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I find I often, when writing, want to string colons together. Here is a recent example:

These two moments would be likely candidates for retelling: they both connect the people of San Andrés Tuxtla to great civilizations: the pre-Hispanic Olmec and the Spanish, when they were at the height of their power.

Now, fret ye not! I eventually replaced the first colon with a period. I find, however, that after using one colon I often want to use another.

Of course, this could just be my own little grammatical quirk. Maybe I find colons a little like Lay's and can't have just one.

I am curious, though, if there is any grammatical or linguistic explanation for this desire? Does a colon regularly induce a sentence or clause that also seeks a colon?

  • In your last sentence, usually seems to strong a word. I've been tempted to "overcolonize" on occasion, but it's hardly the usual case. – J.R. Dec 12 '13 at 19:37
  • @J.R. Right you are! Perhaps I meant inherently, which does not refer to frequency, but even that may be too strong. – Unrelated Dec 12 '13 at 19:44
  • I'm not happy about the use of the first colon in the example here as it stands anyway (whether there are 0, 1, 2 ... umpteen later in the sentence). Previous context may persuade me otherwise, but the assertions in the first two independent clauses are not connected in a clarifying-of-meaning, explaining-of-reason, or listing-of-examples way which I feel would merit a colon. – Edwin Ashworth Dec 12 '13 at 20:04
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    Nations get into trouble when they try to colonize the world. – Mynamite Dec 13 '13 at 0:02
  • I agree with @Edwin but I figured that someone could come up with a more apt example easily enough, so the question still has merit. – J.R. Dec 13 '13 at 0:52
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I am not the expert here, but I think if you understand the grammatical use of a colon, you'll understand that two colons in one sentence doesn't make much sense (i.e. colons do not attract colons; they should repel each other). You are putting a list within a list, a complete clause within a complete clause, or a quote within a quote. (If your quote has a colon it it, that's another thing.)

(Please take the following with a generous helping of salt.) Technically, you would be a colonophile. I think this habit reflects more the unique way in which you relate with words, ideas, and their connections. In your mind, you probably want to make strong connections between your ideas, and putting a period at the end of a complete thought weakens it's connection to the next thought you want to convey, etc. You also may be more interactive with language modules than the average person, that is, you may be able to juggle more modules together in your mind without feeling cluttered. The average reader doesn't like this. That's why the average reader won't be greatly attracted to James Joyce's Ulysses.

You might find this site on Psycholinguistics interesting.

  • But what if you were mixing colon usages? For example, what if you were putting a list within a quote? Franklin Jones said this truth: "The three most important considerations in real estate are: location, location, location." – J.R. Dec 12 '13 at 19:42
  • Ah! I believe that was edited in as I was typing my comment. Even so, I gave my example assuming that I was quoting from speech, so I had the option of punctuating it differently. Couldn't you also have, say, a list within a clause? – J.R. Dec 12 '13 at 19:52
  • Well, sure, you have different options. I only meant to point out that your assertion ("Two colons in one sentence doesn't make much sense; you are putting a list within a list, a complete clause within a complete clause, or a quote within a quote") makes it sound like the O.P.'s problem would only happen in the cases of such nesting. That doesn't seem to account for the possibility of, say, a quote within a list, or a list within a clause, or a clause within a quote – which could be scenarios where the O.P would be more likely to encounter this problem. – J.R. Dec 12 '13 at 20:05

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