Some ‘Splainin’ About Colons (the Punctuation Kind)

I Love Lucy

Did you catch the I Love Lucy Christmas Special on December 7? The one-hour show comprised “The Christmas Episode” and “Job Switching.” In the latter, Lucy and Ethel tried, but ultimately—and hilariously—failed to keep up with the chocolate factory’s conveyor belt. A poll by the Paley Center for Media named the scene the “funniest TV moment of all time.” Indeed, one of the funniest shows of all time.

One of the unfunniest things writers deal with is punctuation. No one wants to interrupt a good idea wondering whether to insert a comma. But punctuation isn’t meant to make life miserable. It’s meant to clarify meaning. Consider the following:

  • “Let’s eat, Grandma!”
  • “Let’s eat Grandma!”

For lack of a comma, the second Grandma succumbs to a cannibal cabal of grandkids. 

I’d like to show you an easy way to remember how and when to use that most misunderstood punctuation mark, the colon. And to honor Lucille Ball’s comic genius, I’ll use I Love Lucy to create examples.

Here is a colon: it’s made of two periods, one on top of the other. Imagine that the two dots are water pipe openings. Now imagine that there’s a leak (since a colon is a fancy piece of punctuation, we’re going to spell “leak” in a fancy way: LEEQ.) A leak can turn into a gusher: “Watch out, Honey! There’s more water coming!” So when you see those two dots, remember that it means there’s a leak, with more coming. A colon signifies that more will follow.

LEEQ is an acronym for the four types of clauses (phrases) that can follow a colon:

  • List
  • Example
  • Explanation
  • Quotation

I’m going to show them out of order, as they make a better story that way. The photo at the top of this blog illustrates the story.


Lucy couldn’t speak: how could she tell Desi about the money? (the bold part explains why Lucy couldn’t speak)


Lucy thought of the perfect lie: a long-lost aunt had died and willed her the money. (an example of the perfect lie)


Lucy knew what Desi would do: yell, shake his fist, tear his hair, curse in Spanish, and make her give the money back. (list of the things Desi would do)


Desi was aghast: “What were you thinking?” (the quotation shows Desi being aghast)

Be careful with quotations. Most dialogue uses a comma to separate it from its dialogue tag. (Desi asked, “What were you thinking?”) You use a colon only when the quotation is preceded by a full sentence (Desi was aghast.), not simply a dialogue tag.

And that’s how you use colons: when more will follow. LEEQ: List, Example, Explanation, or Quotation. Oh, and here’s a bonus: I used lots of colons throughout this post, so you could see them in action.

I hope that was good ’splainin’.