on December 25, 2007
How does a book about how to use commas and colons properly have lodged itself at No 1 on bestseller lists? Maybe Lynne Truss' books success shows that it is not just a few reactionaries who care. Truss agrees it's selling off the internet and stickler-types probably don't do their shopping on the internet. Lynne Truss wonders if there might be readers whose higher education has given them at least a guilty conscience about what they have not been taught, suddenly thinking that perhaps it does matter and I wouldn't mind knowing this stuff. Those copies stacked in Waterstone's might show that there are plenty of people who want to be, as Lynne Truss puts it, 'virtuous'.
While Truss says that 'despair' gave this book its impetus, she does not sound despairing either in print or in person. The title itself is a joke, about an irate panda who walks into a cafe, orders a sandwich, eats it, draws a gun and fires two shots into the air. The waiter finds the explanation for this erratic behavior in a badly punctuated wildlife manual which the bear leaves behind: Panda. Large black-and-white bear-like mammal, native to China. Eats, shoots and leaves.
Eats, Shoots & Leaves: Why, Commas Really Do Make a Difference! tells you the rules, but is also full of jokes and anecdotes. It is a sort of celebration of punctuation. You can't help cheering it on, because it has done such a good job in its humble way. She speaks of the delights of the semi-colon with relish. She has listened to the man from the Apostrophe Protection Society (yes, it exists) but does not sound like a member of any such group. "I was so worried when I wrote the book that people would assume that anyone interested in this subject would be small-minded". --Lynne Truss.
I don't really know where punctuation is going. But this is a very good moment to look at it and see what state it's in. The internet and emails have come along very conveniently for people who didn't learn punctuation and can therefore get by. Punctuation helps give rhythm and a tone of voice to writing, and Truss thinks it no accident that readers of emails often find it difficult to pick up the tone of the person who's written it, with all those dashes. The grace notes get lopped off and it becomes very bald. So people start needing exclamation marks and capital letters, desperately trying to express a tone of voice.
on May 25, 2015
PUNCTUATION: THE ENDANGERED SYSTEM
An appreciation by Phillip Taylor MBE and Elizabeth Taylor of Richmond Green Chambers
A great piece of humour and yet with a serious aim, this little book has become a runaway bestseller overnight and rightly so. As Lynne Truss has explained, there are many people who have little idea of the basics of punctuation today. This does not surprise us in the slightest.
As examiners, we have found scant regard continues to be paid to full stops, commas and question marks. However, by far the number one serial offender is the missing apostrophe. The story of the panda eating in a restaurant, then shoots the restaurant up and departs is an amusing story with an important message. The placing of punctuation in the wrong place can completely alter the message being conveyed… at some cost.
“A revolution in punctuation”, this book has been dedicated to the memory of the striking Bolshevik printers in St Petersburg who, in 1905, demanded to be paid the same rate for punctuation marks as for letters, and thereby directly precipitated the first Russian Revolution.
We have come a long way in over 100 years and the main casualty has been the written word. The ‘shorthand’ we have encountered in the last six years using the internet is enough to convince us that this book should be compulsory reading in schools hence a schools edition in 2006 with illustrations.
Besides, this book is a good read and very funny in places. To sell 50,000 copies in just over a week on release is a great achievement! It is true to say that the book makes a powerful case for the preservation of the system of what is interestingly described as ‘printing conventions’. However, this is not a book for pedants but for everyone, including members of the Bar who write lengthy Opinions and the judges who read them. It has never surprised us how cross the Judiciary become when they see sloppy legal paperwork. We expect it from solicitors but we must maintain a very high standard at the Bar, even with the infernal internet and toxic text messages.
Well done, Lynne for reminding us of our legal roots. ‘Sticklers unite’ she says, ‘you have nothing to lose but your sense of proportion – and arguably you didn’t have much of that to begin with’. Do look at the end of the book for a fine bibliography – all the usual suspects are there including one Bill Bryson and his ‘Troublesome Words’, and the excellent Philip Howard’s ‘The State of the Language: English observed.’
“Eats, Shoots and Leaves” remains a 21st century book to treasure for what could become an endangered system.