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Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation Paperback – April 11, 2006
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Eats, Shoots & Leaves “makes correct usage so cool that you have to admire Ms. Truss.”—Janet Maslin, The New York Times “Witty, smart, passionate.”—Los Angeles Times Book Review, Best Books Of 2004: Nonfiction “This book changed my life in small, perfect ways like learning how to make better coffee or fold an omelet. It’s the perfect gift for anyone who cares about grammar and a gentle introduction for those who don’t care enough.”—The Boston Sunday Globe
From the Back Cover
Praise for Lynne Truss and Eats, Shoots & Leaves:
Eats, Shoots & Leaves "makes correct usage so cool that you have to admire Ms. Truss."
JANET MASLIN, THE NEW YORK TIMES
"Witty, smart, passionate."
LOS ANGELES TIMES BOOK REVIEW, BEST BOOKS OF 2004: NONFICTION
"Who knew grammar could be so much fun?"
"Witty and instructive. . . . Truss is an entertaining, well-read scold in a culture that could use more scolding."
"Truss is William Safire crossed with John Cleeses Basil Fawlty."
"Lynne Truss has done the English-speaking world a huge service."
THE CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR
"This book changed my life in small, perfect ways like learning how to make better coffee or fold an omelet. Its the perfect gift for anyone who cares about grammar and a gentle introduction for those who dont care enough."
THE BOSTON SUNDAY GLOBE
"Lynne Truss makes [punctuation] a joy to contemplate."
"If Lynne Truss were Roman Catholic Id nominate her for sainthood."
Frank McCourt, author of Angelas Ashes
"Trusss scholarship is impressive and never dry."
EDMUND MORRIS, THE NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW
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All the good work Lynne Truss does in conveying her message (viz., punctuation matters) is undone by her hectoring tone, dismal attempts at humour (made worse by a tendency to point out the punch-lines) and, in the final analysis, lack of credibility: having set out rules she then reverses over them, makes egregious appeals to authority and, every now and then, just gets things flat out wrong.
You might forgive that were there any humility in her prose, but there isn't. The first rule of hubris is: if you're going to be a clever-clogs, make sure you're right, because readers won't cut you any slack if you're not.
Lynne Truss isn't always right.
A case in point: in her introduction, Truss states (rather presumptuously) on behalf of her fellow sticklers, "we got very worked up after 9/11 not because of Osama bin-Laden but because people on the radio kept saying "enormity" when they meant "magnitude", and we hate that".
Now ignoring the curious impression this creates of Truss's value scheme, she is quite wrong to take umbrage here: "Enormity", in British English, means "extreme wickedness". The magnitude and the awfulness of an act of mass murder are closely correlated. So, even in British English, it is perfectly right to talk of the "enormity" of September 11. But if any of the voices Truss heard on the radio were American, they had another excuse. In American English enormity *does* mean "magnitude". Since Truss is so enamoured with appeals to authority, it is odd she didn't check that with the best authority on American English, Webster's dictionary. I should mention that I read English edition of this book. Given Truss's proclivities as regards the cultural heathen, it will be interesting to see whether her American sub-editors pluck up enough courage to point this out.
When she does make them, Truss's appeals to authority are even more irritating, particularly where they contradict her own rules or justify her own errors: So, the author patiently explains that an apostrophe is required to indicate possession except in the case of a possessive pronoun (i.e., "mine", "yours", "his", "hers", "its", "ours" and "theirs"). Now, I had always wondered why a possessive "its" doesn't have an apostrophe, and this explains it nicely. But then Truss completely undermines her own rule and appeals to the authority of Virginia Woolf:
"Someone wrote to say that my use of "one's" was wrong ("a common error"), and that it should be "ones". This is such rubbish that I refuse to argue about it. Go and tell Virginia Woolf it should be "A Room of Ones Own" and see how far you get."
Virginia Woolf's been dead for over fifty years, so this is pretty tough to do. But it doesn't mean Virginia Woolf was right. And Truss fails explain why this is "such rubbish".
Finally, even the book's title betrays the author's questionable sense of humour. I don't think she gets the joke. It has nothing to do with waiters or pistols (perhaps a maiden aunt told her that one?) and certainly doesn't need a "badly punctuated wildlife manual" to work, because it isn't a grammatical play; it's an oral one. The joke doesn't work when you write it down, precisely because of the ambiguous comma. You have to say it out loud (in spoken English, there is no punctuation at all).
I hope they re-title the New Zealand edition of this book, because the local version of the joke (which employs a delightful expression from NZ English) is funnier: The Kiwi, it is said, is the most anti-social bird in the bush, and no-one likes to invite it to parties, because, if it turns up at all, it just eats roots and leaves.
The joke's about shagging, Lynne.
1 September 2008: After more than four years, I am finally out of my misery: a correspondent, C. Elder, has kindly explained why "one's" should indeed take an apostrophe: Mr(s). Elder writes:
"It is only personal possessive pronouns (mine, his, her, our, etc) that do not take apostrophes. "One" is an indefinite pronoun, so using it in the possessive sense ... it takes an apostrophe, and hence why we ought not torture Ms Woolf in her grave."
So there you have it.
She's got a little list -- she's got a little list
Of illiterate offenders who might well be underground,
And who never would be missed -- who never would be missed!
There's the greengrocer's redundant and reviled apostrophe
Granting unapproved possession of the carrot and the pea --
All the dangling expectations when the commas aren't in pairs --
All the chaos that's created in semantical affairs --
All editors eliminating semis from your list --
They'd none of 'em be missed -- they'd none of 'em be missed!
She's got 'em on the list -- she's got 'em on the list;
And they'll none of 'em be missed -- they'll none of 'em be missed.
There's the muzzy-headed journalist whose phrases roam like sheep,
Who thinks that commas don't exist -- she's got him on her list!
And the pedants whose subordinated clauses bring on sleep,
They never would be missed -- they never would be missed!
There's the manuscript that always gives infuriating pause
By the wrongful punctuation of the inoffensive clause,
And ambiguous intentions when a colon should be placed
But the author for some reason holds that mark in great distaste,
And the cavalier exclaimer who from screaming can't desist --
I don't think he'd be missed -- I'm sure he'd not be missed!
She's got him on the list -- she's got him on the list;
And I don't think he'd be missed -- I'm sure he'll not be missed!
And the sentences that ought to end but will not mind the stop
So the readers lose the gist -- she's got 'em on the list!
And the badly punctuated placard shilling for a shop,
They'd none of 'em be missed -- they'd none of 'em be missed.
And the foes of readability with dashes everywhere,
They inch along in fits and starts, they make you want to swear,
The intolerant authorities whose standards are not yours,
Those moral weaklings oozing indecision from their pores,
It's a stickler's job to see they all are placed upon the list,
For they'd none of 'em be missed -- they'd none of 'em be missed!
In homage to THE MIKADO; libretto by W.S. Gilbert and music by Arthur Sullivan.
Linda Bulger, 2007
Most recent customer reviews
The book a) leans toward British rules, which is befuddling, because the author admits that American English commits, 'legally,' the...Read more