Yahoo! News - Clear as mud as lawmakers define a colon

WELLINGTON (AFP) - New Zealand's lawmakers came up with a definition of the colon that will have dictionary founder Samuel Johnson turning in his grave while delighting the most pedantic.

Parliament is consolidating tax law and heard complaints from experts that they were uncertain what that particular punctuation mark meant in the proposed legislation.

Helpfully parliament's finance and expenditure select committee issued this guide:

"The colon is essentially intended to be interpreted as an indication that the statements in the items are not linked conjunctively or disjunctively, that is, it would not be appropriate to link them with either an 'and' or an 'or'," said the advice.

"In some instances, each statement in a list that is punctuated with colons may apply independently, without relying on the operation of the statements in the other items.

"If the items are statements representing pre-conditions for a statutory result, the effect of linking the items with colons is that the result will follow if one or more of the pre-conditions are satisfied.

"If such items were linked with 'and', the result would follow where all the items were satisfied. If the items were linked with 'or', the result would follow where only one item but no more than one item was satisfied."

Got that?

The Oxford Dictionary defines the colon as punctuation "to mark antithesis, illustration, quotation or listing."

Fowler's Modern English Usage provides a witty and small essay on the colon and defines its special function thus: "That of delivering the goods that have been invoiced in the preceding words."