I was always a fan of grammar and it was one of my favourite subjects in school, but I wanted something to remind me how to use it and the importance of it. I grew up in a different country where English is a foreign language to study and the punctuation is slightly different, for instance we used commas instead of full stops when writing down numbers with decimals, so I thought this book might help me understand other differences and uses of punctuation.
The title of the book: “Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation” is very suggestive. Lynne Truss, the author of the book, is indeed very harsh and critical if the punctuation is not used correctly. Her goal is to remind readers of the importance of punctuation in the English language by mixing humour and instruction.
There are different chapters about apostrophes, commas, semicolons and colons, exclamation marks, quotation marks, italic type, dashes, brackets, ellipses and hyphens. Truss explains about when and how to use them by adding examples, she even shows how the punctuation was used in the past and what various writers thought about it.
“Eats, Shoots & Leaves” is an amphibology – a situation where a sentence may be interpreted in more than one way due to ambiguous sentence structure – and derived from a joke about bad punctuation:
A panda walks into a café. He orders a sandwich, eats it, then draws a gun and proceeds to fire it at the other patrons.
“Why?” asks the confused, surviving waiter amidst the carnage, as the panda makes towards the exit. The panda produces a badly punctuated wildlife manual and tosses it over his shoulder.
“Well, I’m a panda,” he says. “Look it up.”
The waiter turns to the relevant entry in the manual and, sure enough, finds an explanation. “Panda. Large black-and-white bear-like mammal, native to China. Eats, shoots and leaves.”
I might be a punctuation stickler or I’m becoming one, but I can see clear signs of damaging effects of punctuation, some of them because of e-mail and internet usage. Punctuation rules are being relaxed in today’s society, teenagers are using punctuation to create emoticons like smiley faces and if we don’t treat grammar as we should, there’s a chance that we won’t understand each other anymore.
I work with databases and I see a lot of misspellings and errors, which makes data analysis a lot more difficult to do. Names spelt wrong or just the initials, date of births stored in both the American and European formats, telephone numbers instead of email addresses and so on… It would make analytics easier if the correct information is entered in the right place. The more accurate the data, the more accurate the analysis.
Would I recommend this book? Yes! Especially if you don’t know the difference between:
“Let’s eat, Grandma!” and “Let’s eat Grandma!”
Punctuation changes meanings and it acts as traffic signals. It tells us when to stop, when to take a break, when to shout and when to whisper. Everybody should know that!
14 October, 2015 by Anca Comsa