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I’ve never seen the construction before, except in Spanish for dialogue and Toni Morrison using the variation “;—” in Beloved for denoting a strong pause (well, that’s what we decided in my English class).

How does Henry Adams use “:—”? Is this grammatically correct? How can I incorporate this into my own sentences?

Among senses, smell was the strongest:—the smell of hot pine-woods and sweet-fern in the scorching summer noon; of new-mown hay; of ploughed earth

— Henry Adams, in The Education of Henry Adams

marked as duplicate by FumbleFingers, MetaEd, choster, Hellion, tchrist Aug 28 '13 at 1:52

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  • 4
    It's also used at the end of the preamble in UK Acts of Parliament, e.g.: legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2010/30/introduction – Steve Melnikoff Oct 22 '10 at 22:33
  • As I write, there's a pending edit suggesting OP's citation should be changed to ...was the strongest :— the smell of hot... But searching for that exact text in Google Books, only one out of several dozen has a colon before the em-dash. None have a semicolon, which is equally nonsensical. I therefore think this question is Off Topic because it's just asking about a mistranscription/typo. – FumbleFingers Aug 26 '13 at 21:31
  • This question appears to be off-topic because it is about a typo – FumbleFingers Aug 26 '13 at 21:31

Taking a break from typing court orders, and specifically

The Court has sent sealed copies of this Order to: -

Smith & Jones

Brown & Robinson

and the Court of Appeal

I can say that it is used in formal contexts as a strengthened colon: that is, either at the beginning of a list (as in my example), or before an expansion of what has just been said, as in Steve Melnikoff's example. I imagine it is a shortening of viz:- and was later abbreviated to a simple colon.


I haven't seen that used before. Reading your example sentence, I treat it just like a regular —. You can probably do whatever you want in your own books, but I would just use —.

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