Kate Malcolm thinks colons are a scourge in academia. Anecdotal point: my vita lists twelve different works (my dissertation, a working paper that I plan to send out for review Monday, and ten conference papers). My dissertation’s title doesn’t contain a colon; the working paper does. Six of the conference papers have colons in their titles; two have a question mark that functions as a colon; and two lack colons completely.
Of the colon titles, though, only two fit the “witty title, sober subtitle” pattern: one was a co-authored piece that I didn’t pick the title for (which is one of the question-mark titles), and the other uses aliteration in the main title. The remainder contain colons because of allusions to other works (two pieces that are extensions or responses to published material), to set up the context that a theory is being tested in (e.g. “Impeaching the President: The Influence of Constituency Support on a Salient Issue,” where the substantive situation being analyzed isn’t the key focus, but it is the “hook” for the theories being tested), or because I wanted to downplay the authoritativeness of the work.
All that being said, colons are probably overused. Perhaps as full-text indexing of journal articles becomes more widely adopted, including the integration of the SSCI into other databases, colons will become less widespread.
Update: One of the co-authors I impugned above, fellow Ole Miss alum Scott Huffmon, writes:
Obviously, an exception should be made for those of us who feel it is both sport and imperative to come up with the most annoying paper titles. I actually had to harass Bobbi [our other co-author] into that title. I told her, “It may sound and look stupid, but I’m not submitting a title without a colon…it’s tradition.” John White and I decided we would try to put as many colons in titles as possible after a guy … wrote a conference paper titled (the post colon subtitle may be off, but the pithy pre-colon title is correct), “How Bubba Votes: The Voting Behavior of Southern White Males.”
I plan to continue my quest for the most annoying and stupid paper title possible by incorporating unneeded colons whenever possible. I stand defiant in the face of your punctuationist discrimination.
Viva la colon!!!
If this doesn’t prove academics have too much time on their hands, nothing will.