Originally created 05/02/04

Author preaches punctuation



If someone were to tell you there was a popular book on the subject of punctuation, you'd probably use all the marks in response: What! On punctuation? Hmmmmm ... It's hard to believe; on the other hand, maybe not.

Lynne Truss has written a most entertaining book on a topic perhaps second only to grammar as Least Likely to Succeed. But this is no ordinary school lesson. The title - and subtitle - are good indications that we're in for something more than English 101.

Eats, Shoots & Leaves gets its name from a joke about a panda that goes into a bar, orders something to eat, takes out a gun and fires it and then walks out, telling the bartender not to worry; he's a panda and that's what he does. The bartender looks it up in the dictionary and, sure enough, it says right there: Panda. Native of China. Eats shoots and leaves.

There but for the want of a comma ...

Which brings us to the subtitle: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation.

Ms. Truss has had it with the misuse and abuse of punctuation and leaps to the forefront of a revolution, firing primarily from the trenches of traditional rules, while understanding the lack of agreement. She takes it seriously but, makes her case with humor.

Published in Great Britain in 2003, the book now has been brought to U.S. shores, unchanged, with the publishers hoping it will have the same success here as it did so surprisingly in Britain. No reason it shouldn't. Americans are just as punctuation-challenged as their cousins across the sea.

We seem to have a special problem in differentiating "its" and "it's," for example, much as the English have been embarrassed by signs reading "Apple's and pear's for sale" and "Chip's and pea's" offered on pub menus. "Sticklers unite!" is her rallying cry, aimed at the minority of Brits "who love punctuation and don't like to see it mucked about with." She's the militant wing of the Apostrophe Protection Society, which was born to restore order in such public signs as "No dog's."

Picky, you say? Compare these two sentences, she responds:

"A woman, without her man, is nothing."

"A woman: Without her, man is nothing."

Ms. Truss indicates it may get worse. The death knell for punctuation as we now know it may be seen on the Internet, where it's either not used or abused.

It's time, she says, to do something about it: "We should fight like tigers to preserve our punctuation and we should start now."