Monday, March 10, 2008
Eats, Shoots & Leaves The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation by Lynn Truss is a guide to proper use of punctuation. It is meant to be humorous and for the most part succeeds.
The book is partially about how punctuation changes the meanings of words. A nice example of this from book using the dash is extra-marital sex versus extra marital sex. The two phrases have very different meanings. The title refers to the difference between two sentences; one with a comma, one without: "Eats, shoots and leaves" and "Eats shoots and leaves." Changes in punctuation often completely change the meaning of sentences.
Punctuation also creates rhythm in writing. I especially like her quoting Cecil Hartley with a poem. The poem was written in 1818 so it is no longer in copyright.
The stops point out, with truth, the time of
A sentence doth require at ev'ry clause.
At ev'ry comma stop while one you count;
At semicolon, two, is the amount;
A colon doth require the time of three;
The period four, as learned men agree.
She also attacks common grammatical errors that show a lack of basic education. These attacks are of course are primarily aimed against shopkeepers, greengrocers, and signposters. Mistakes like Cd,s, Dvd,s and Tape,s are pointed out for the readers amusement. While this is interesting to grammar mavens and sticklers; it is something which I do not partake in. My aim is to improve my writing.
This book was useful, humorous, and entertaining. It was originally published in Britain, but it still translates well for an American audience. It will help you with punctuation in places where the use of commas, dashes, quotation marks and other grammatical symbols matter.