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Although I do not know the name of the rule, I do understand that a colon is typically used to elaborate on a single thought or idea. For example:

"I love all types of burritos: Californian, Mexican, French, etc."

However, what I am wondering about is the rule for flipping this structure. Is it acceptable to have the list items first? For example:

"Californian, Mexican, French, etc: I love all burritos."

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  • I'd prefer an ellipsis to the 'etc' here, which doubles as introductory punctuation. Californian, Mexican, French ... I love all burritos. If you prefer an 'etc', a dash would be more normal: Californian, Mexican, French – I love all burritos. Commented Sep 30, 2014 at 15:59
  • No, that's weird. ':' means a list will follow, not precede.
    – Mitch
    Commented Sep 30, 2014 at 20:08
  • Just out of curiosity, I did search on Google.fr for "burrito" and came up with Mexican recipes. The French Wikipedia article (fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Burrito), while brief, places its origin in 19th century Mexico. While I have enjoyed Mexican cuisine in Paris, I doubt there is a burrito that the French would consider truly French.
    – rajah9
    Commented Sep 30, 2014 at 21:24
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    @rajah9 I appreciate your research into the ellusive French Burrito. I can only imagine rice, beans, meat and hot sauce wrapped in a croissant... mmmm. Commented Sep 30, 2014 at 21:53

2 Answers 2

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Although style guides typically cover lists in some detail (Chicago Manual of Style, Fifteenth Edition, for example, devotes five pages to issues involved in punctuating lists), I haven't found any style guide that talks about how to punctuate a list run in reverse. Probably this unaccustomed reserve reflects the notion that such an approach will rarely come up come up in writing destined for supervised publication. But the absence of style-guide guidance means that you don't have to look over your shoulder at a disapproving authority, regardless of how you decide to punctuate your backward list.

As a matter of personal preference, I like Edwin Ashworth's recommendation to use ellipsis points, though using an em dash or a colon instead will likewise signal that you have finished itemizing the parallel items on your list and are now prepared to say something more general about them.

One approach that has become more popular in recent years and that I detest is the series of one-word or short-phrase sentences followed by the generally applicable comment. For example:

Spring. Summer. Autumn. Winter. The seasons come and the seasons go, and still no one is doing anything about them.

Or to adopt your example:

Californian. Mexican. French. Etc. I love all burritos.

I'm not sure whether writers who employ this type of punctuation think the period separations give their writing admirable gravitas, or whether they they think their readers need to digest their prose in tiny bites, or whether they think the style is cute or hip—but I've run into examples of it all too often in the past few years, and I can't think of anything positive to say about it.

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  • My CMoS (13th ed) has "Lists, punctuation of" in sections 5.8-9, 5.71, 5.75, 5.76-78, and 5.100. Sven is right; lists are to be punctuated with colons or em dashes, but with the description preceding the list.
    – rajah9
    Commented Sep 30, 2014 at 20:59
  • The full stop before the Etc. looks odd to me. I would not write "Californian. Mexican. French. And the rest. I love all burritos." Perhaps: "French, etc." or "French (and the rest)."
    – rajah9
    Commented Sep 30, 2014 at 21:06
  • I think the ellipsis suggestion makes the most sense. "I love all burritos" the after-thought of which kinds of burritos I love. Having "I love all burritos" before the kinds would mean I am declaring my love of burritos then listing which ones. Commented Sep 30, 2014 at 21:56
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I love all types of burritos: Californian, Mexican, French, etc.

Is the normal way to say it.

Californian, Mexican, French, etc: I love all burritos.

Is almost right - try changing the colon into a dash ("-" not a ";") and I would lose the "etc."

Californian, Mexican and French - I love all burritos.

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  • Have you an authority backing this usage of the semicolon (after a sentence fragment)? The 'rules' for the use of the dash and colon are more flexible, according to most of the articles I've read. Commented Sep 30, 2014 at 16:02

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