Distended colons

Kill the Colon: Why Academics Should Stop Writing Books with Obligatory Colons Followed by Elaborate and Pretentious Subtitles has yet to be written. But Brenda Wineapple thinks academic writing needs a colon-ectomy. From the Chronicle of Higher Ed:

“I hate colons,” says Ms. Wineapple, a professor of modern literature and historical studies at Union College, in New York. Her second book, Sister Brother: Gertrude and Leo Stein (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1996; reprinted by Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997), is not supposed to have a colon. She wrote the title without one. “Nobody can handle that,” she says. So “anyone who ever talks about the book puts it on.”

Over the last two decades, academic titles have become increasingly cumbersome, and it is rare to find an academic book title that is not lashed together with a subtitle and its colon. Some books even boast two subtitles, glued tenuously to the title with two colons.

“We joke about the title and the subtitle needing colonoscopies,” says Anita Samen, managing editor in the book division of the University of Chicago Press. “People have gone hog-wild with colons.”

Via New Criterion’s weblog, which links to an automatic postmodern title generator for academics. For example:

1. Text as Reclamation: Colonizing Epistemological Fragmentation in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice

2. Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice, and The Lesbian: Telling Savage Silence

3. Seducing, Desiring, Protesting: Margins in Jane Austen and the Objectified Artifacts of Gentility in Pride and Prejudice

4. The Opposition of Intolerance and the Gendered in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice

5. Absent Fragmentation and the Suppression of Phallic Capital in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice

I tried my as-yet-unpublished book. My favorite is: “Complicating, Colonizing, Fraying: Feminism in Joanne Jacobs and the Collusive Womanhood of Vivisection in Ride the Carrot Salad.”

About Joanne


  1. Eric Jablow says:

    It has already been done for real. Look on your favorite online book publishing site for Pride and Promiscuity: The Lost Sex Scenes of Jane Austen, by Arielle Eckstut, ISBN 068487265X. Simon & Schuster’s blurb reads:

    In 1999, two amateur Jane Austen scholars staying at an English estate stumbled upon a hidden cache of manuscript pages and made the literary discovery of the century—the lost sex scenes from Jane Austen’s novels. Published here for the first time, the lost pages display Emma taking self-satisfaction to a whole new level, and reveal Henry Crawford’s thorough exploration of “brotherly love” at Mansfield Park. If you’ve ever wondered what really happened in the drawing rooms of Austen’s beloved characters, Pride and Promiscuity will satisfy your curiosity…and a whole lot more.

  2. same old ross says:

    Once you have your snappy postmodern title, the next thing to do is write the actual postmodern essay to go along with that title. To help you do this, there’s the article How to Deconstruct Almost Anything in which it is written:

    The essential paradigm of cyberspace is creating partially situated identities out of actual or potential social reality in terms of canonical forms of human contact, thus renormalizing the phenomenology of narrative space and requiring the naturalization of the intersubjective cognitive strategy, and thereby resolving the dialectics of metaphorical thoughts, each problematic to the other, collectively redefining and reifying the paradigm of the parable of the model of the metaphor.

  3. “I’ve been around forever, close to 40 years, and as far as I can remember, there have always been a lot of colons in academic publishing,” says Walter H. Lippincott, director of Princeton University Press. “It’s not the colon that’s a problem. It’s whether the title is clunky or not.”


  4. Of course, it does act as an early warning of the unreadable crud within.

  5. No, it doesn’t act as any such thing. See my comment above. A clunky title acts as a warning; the colon does not.

  6. I like colons: They’re cool!

  7. John from OK says:

    My colon works just fine — no need to show it off to you guys.

  8. D. Cooper says:

    Forgive me but I’m trying to recall the last time I saw a colon that really bothered me. Oooh … perish the thought. That didn’t sound right ? Did it?

  9. I tried it out with a number of different authors and titles, and had a great deal of fun. Thanks! I recommend this combination, which, by way of keeping on topic, I am introducing with a colon:

    author = “Merriam-Webster”
    title = “New Collegiate Dictionary”