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Customer Review

213 of 233 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Is John Updike a Menace to Society?, May 27, 2004
This review is from: Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation (Hardcover)
Readers, check your reaction to the following sentence:
Lynne Truss, an English grammarian is bloody fed up with sloppy punctuation.
Does that sentence leave you feeling confused, irritated, or angry? Do you feel you have to second-guess the author of the sentence, forced to ascertain whether s/he was writing to Lynne Truss or about Ms. Truss?

But that sort of thing is almost the norm these days, on both sides of the Atlantic. Of course, we Americans have been struggling for years with FRESH DONUT'S DAILY and Your Server: "MILLY" -- not to mention the archy-and-mehitabel school of e-mail that neither capitalizes nor punctuates and reading through this kind of sentence really gets confusing i think it does at least do you too?

Turns out that even the British--including the elite "Oxbridge" inteligentsia--are wildly ignorant of punctuation's rules and standards. Lynne Truss, an English grammarian and author of EATS, SHOOTS & LEAVES, is bloody fed up with it! So she wrote this handy little book that is ever-so-correct but not condescending, sometimes savage but not silly, full of mission and totally without mush.

Think of Truss as punctuation's own Miss Manners, a combination of leather and lace, with maybe a bit more emphasis on the leather. (She advocates forming possees to paint out incorrect apostrophes in movie placards.) But her examples of bad punctuation serve a purpose: bad punctuation distorts meaning. EATS, SHOOTS & LEAVES includes numerous hilarious backfires of punctuation -- statements and missives that use the exact same words but convey totally opposite messages due to inappropriate punctuation.

Do commas go where they go for breathing, as the do-it-naturally school of non-grammar so many of us were exposed to would have it? Or were they for Medieval chanting or, more analytically, for grammar? Truss explains that it's a mish-mosh of all three, and proceeds to make useful sense of it all. Along the way she confesses she would have gladly borne the children of the 15th-Century Italian typographer who invented Italics and the forward-slash.

With its blend of high dudgeon and helpfulness, Truss steers the reader through the shoals of possession and apostrophes, quotations (British use is a bit differerent from North American, but only a bit, and she notes the difference), the useful if forlorn semicolon, the mighty colon, the bold and (mea culpa) overused dash and other interrupters like parenthesees and commas.

It's important to note that Truss, while something of a true believer, is a believer who lives in the 21st Century. She does not advocate turning back the clock to the 1906 version of Fowler's MODERN ENGLISH USAGE; she is not a snob; she does not overwhelm us with technical terms of grammar and punctuation for their own sake. Just good, common-sense English prescriptive lessons in grammar. People who know they don't know their stuff will learn the right stuff there. People who felt that "the rules" have somehow become archaic in the last thirty years will be happy to see that there are still rules, and while they have become more fluid and pragmatic, they haven't changed inordinately. "It's" still means "It is" and "Its" is still a possessive: "It's a wise publisher that knows its public," say. Best of all, the teaching is conveyed with wit, bite, and in a snappy tome easy to carry and inexpensive. I'm a former English teacher and I couldn't help but learn and laugh. Highly recommended.

Oh, John Updike? He uses comma faults all that time, that's a sentence like this that splices main clauses together with a comma, maybe using semicolons or starting a new sentence would be better. For us mere mortals, though, standard punctuation fits the norm: once we become world-famous, then we can punctuate at will.
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Tracked by 3 customers

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Showing 1-10 of 19 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Jan 3, 2010 10:10:30 AM PST
Great review. But forming "possees"? Not sure that is the correct plural of "posse". Maybe better to avoid the plural. Not to mention the incomplete sentence.

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 9, 2010 1:22:15 PM PST
I stand on guard.

Posted on Aug 15, 2010 7:34:34 AM PDT
coalpuss says:
I am only half-way through this book and my stomach aches from laughing! It makes being a Stickler acceptable, if one is willing to accept the resentment it may generate. Oh, in reading this morning's paper I couldn't help but notice a misplaced comma in a one-page ad. It is a sickness!

In reply to an earlier post on Sep 5, 2010 11:55:06 PM PDT
Yes, but a little bit of Schadenfreude can make it a liberating experience for you. The people who don't get the difference between "Adam's wife Eve" and "Adams' presidency" aren't fully literate anyway. Be glad you were brought up right.

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 19, 2011 9:45:54 PM PST
V. Hoffman says:
"Oh, in reading this morning's paper I couldn't help but notice a misplaced comma in a one-page ad."

Just one? That's a good ad. ;)

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 15, 2011 5:20:46 AM PDT
It is indeed a sickness. Try You Are What You Read. It's the cure.

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 29, 2012 11:57:46 AM PST
I was about to buy the book and looked at page 58 where the author misplaces the quotation marks inside the period. uh oh.

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 30, 2012 3:20:09 PM PST
That would be correct if she is following British punctuation standards.

Posted on Mar 9, 2012 3:12:21 AM PST
ChrisWN says:
>Lynne Truss, an English grammarian and author of EATS, SHOOTS & LEAVES, is bloody fed up with it!

I believe "bloody" is more commonly used today as an adjective & "bloody well" as an adverb.

>once we become world-famous, then we can punctuate at will.

Regardless of whether you are famous or not, if you want to communicate your ideas effectively and accurately, you bloody well better use punctuation correctly.

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 9, 2012 5:25:41 PM PST
Chris WN, Your point on "bloody" vs. "bloody well" is well noted and next time I want to talk fake-British (which isn't often), I will use the preferred terminology.

Correct punctuation: You're bloody well right! But you read my review, so you know where my sympathies lie.
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