The traditional academic admonition to “publish or perish” has a grim ring to it these days as the colon crisis deepens.
The colon is an uncommon punctuation mark vital to the production of scholarly papers. Every officially-published academic paper must contain a colon in its title, e.g. “Orchids Bee Bois(colon) Transgender Pollination Syndromes in Ophrys Species.” Without that colon, it cannot be published in an accredited journal. Colons are also extensively used in bibliographies.
However, the supply of natural colons has been depleted through over-collection and overuse. There are no longer enough available for every paper submitted for publication.
“It’s an unprecedented crisis,” said Plethora Polysyllabica, Director of Sesquipedelian Pleonasms at the University of Flatland-Kechi and head of the Colon Task Force. “We’ve asked older faculty to announce their findings and analyses on Twitter so that tenure-track instructors may have use of the remaining colons. Unfortunately, not all have not been cooperative.”
Researchers have been hunting for fresh supplies of colons, but they fear that all natural colon resources are nearly exhausted. Attempts to breed colons from other lexicographical symbols have been unsuccessful, as have efforts to construct colons by balancing one period on top of another or by erasing a portion of a semicolon.
Can academic publishing survive without colons? Polysyllabica is guardedly optimistic.
“It’s possible. Some researchers have reported promising results substituting an em-dash for the title colon,” she stated. “We are currently in talks with the University of Chicago about possible changes to the style manual regarding alternative ways of documenting sources, which might alleviate the demand for other kinds of colons.”
Nevertheless, progress is slow, and for now colons remain scarce. Polysyllabica advises academic writers to be patient, and also to consider, before submitting them for publication, whether anyone actually would want to read their papers.