Possible Duplicate:
Henry Adam’s use of punctuation, “:—”

I've seen a couple of times, ":-" occurring where I could expect just a colon to occur, perhaps preceding a list.

When is it correct to use ":-"?

What is it called?

Am I simply wrong and think I remember seeing this, when in actual fact I didn't?

  • Until I read @StoneyB's answer, I wondered if it was an emoticon depicting someone with no mouth.
    – J.R.
    Nov 25 '12 at 17:40
  • 1
    On a side note, ":-" is used in Swedish (and probably elsewhere – at least in German, I think, but punctuation is hard to search for…) for an amount of money. "123:-" is 123 SEK. The ":-" stands for "and no cents", cf. "123:45" for 123 SEK and 45 cents ("öre").
    – Henrik N
    Nov 25 '12 at 20:29

This is an old usage, now obsolete. Graves and Hodge (The Reader Over Your Shoulder, 1943) describe it thus:

 A long dash may be put after a colon, for emphasis. For example:

  ‘The Captain arose and said: “Come, Antonio, amuse the men, and tell them one of your favourite stories!” Antonio arose, rolled the quid from side to side in his coarse mouth and, after a pause, began thus:—
  “About the year 1874, in Lisbon . . . ”’

Note that the colon-dash construction is distinct from the internal colon.

OED 1 employs :— in etymologies to signify an “extant representative, or regular phonetic descendant of”. According to tchrist, OED 2 and OED 3 employ it similarly to signify “normal development of”.

  • Might I please trouble you to incorporate the OED use of this digraph into your answer? If it's too much trouble, may I do so for you, please? FYI in my print version of the OED2, it is a em dash, but I think that is what your example above is, also. From the dead: tchrist In the "List of Abbreviations, Signs, &c" it is said that "in the Etymol. [...] :— = extant representative, or regular phonetic descendant of" – StoneyB 5 hours ago. StoneyB Thanks. I didn’t even think to look there. In the OED2, it defines it as “normal development of”, which I never realized. – tchrist 5 hours ago.
    – tchrist
    Nov 25 '12 at 22:20
  • 1
    @tchrist There you go. If you can figure out how to pretty up the blockquote, please do; in RoYS the blockquote and individual paragraphs are both indented. Nov 25 '12 at 22:36
  • This reminds me of the double dash (which I'll mimic with an equals sign) found, to my knowledge, only in the Waldorf=Astoria (Hotel). Nov 25 '12 at 23:26
  • @EdwinAshworth – Wikipedia says this double hyphen is a glyphic variant (usually oblique) in Fraktur faces; is employed in some dictionaries to disambiguate line-end hyphenation when this coincides with the hyphen in a compound; and is a distinct point in Coptic, Ojibwe, and Japanese katakana. Nov 25 '12 at 23:50
  • @EdwinAshworth You mean the double-hyphen, not the double-dash: hyphens join, while dashes separate. See here. I am especially fond of using the double-hyphen to show a literal hyphen that occurs at a linebreak, as was done in certain dictionaries of old. But then, I like my hyphens hung in the margin, too, which is distressingly rare these days. It's like we've forgotten everything Gutenberg ever taught us.
    – tchrist
    Nov 26 '12 at 0:38

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.