Eats, Shoots and Leaves

I had been meaning to read Eats, Shoots and Leaves ever since I first heard about it – probably on NPR – shortly after it was published.  I’m not sure if it says more about me or about my family that I received not one, but two copies of it this Christmas – one from my husband and one from my mother (who admittedly bought two copies by accident and gave me the “mistake” copy).

It takes a certain type of person to find a book about punctuation hilarious.   I mean, what’s really funny about the “full stop” (such a better term than “period”), and the poor, abused apostrophe.  (And yes, I’m being especially careful in my punctuation just in case Ms. Truss happens across this text.)  But the sheer … moral affront with which she approaches punctuation errors is comedy gold.  For example:

But the writers rock back and forth in their office chairs, softly tapping the semicolon key and emitting low whimpers.  I hear there are now Knighsbridge clinics offering semicolonic irrigation – but for many it may be too late (115).

(And now, because I was taught as a matter of style never to end a paragraph with a direct quotation, I will add another sentence of original writing.)  Truly, even though I had been told how witty the book is, I didn’t expect to find myself reading whole sections aloud.

While I was definitely entertained by the book, I didn’t come away feeling like I knew particularly more about the day-t0-day use of punctuation.  The history bits are very interesting, and the history geek in me is tempted to track down some of her sources just to learn more.  Her descriptions of the ways that commas and semicolons keep a sentence aloft, however, were both delightful and prompted me to try to be a bit more mindful of how I use those little marks.

Even though Ms. Truss says that she understands that language is evolving and that the Internet and mobile communications technologies are contributing to that change, in the end she can’t quite let go of the fourteen-year-old girl who wrote the following in a letter to an American pen pal:

I watch television in a desultory kind of way; I find there is not much on (104).

Even though I know that I am guilty of excessive ellipsization and use of emoticons in informal writing, the whole book makes my inner stickler smile and want to

shin up [a ladder] in dead of night with an apostrophe-shaped stencil and a tin of paint (6).

And don’t worry, Ms. Truss.  I’m sure we can find volunteers to knit us some balaclavas.


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