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Eats, Shoots and Leaves | Reviews

Eats, Shoots and Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation

Lynne Truss

Profile £9.99

 

 The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation

Eats, Shoots and Leaves

'Lynne Truss thinks that punctuation matters, that it really matters.'


‘In the family of punctuation, where the full stop is daddy and the comma is mummy, and the semicolon quietly practises the piano with crossed hands, the exclamation mark is the big attention-deficit brother who gets over-excited and breaks things and laughs too loudly.’

 

'Obsessive, entertaining, passionate, this book is a delight and a must-read for anyone interested in the future – and the past - of the language.'

Lynne Truss’s surprise bestseller on punctuation deserves every bit of its success, as far as I’m concerned. It hasn’t been universally well received, as she’s been accused of pedantry and tedious one track mindedness. But for this reader what transformed the book was her combative approach and her truly wonderful turn of phase. This makes it difficult to write about her book without continually resorting to quoting from it.

Lynne Truss thinks that punctuation matters, that it really matters. ‘What happens when it isn’t used? Well, if punctuation is the stitching of language, language comes apart, obviously, and all the buttons fall off. If punctuation provides the traffic signals, words bang into each other and everyone ends up in Minehead.’

Truss takes it all seriously. Chapter by chapter, she shows how the punctuation marks originated and how they are used and misused today. She starts with the much-abused apostrophe ‘the tractable apostrophe has always done its proper jobs in our language with enthusiasm and elegance, but it has never been taken seriously enough… In fact one might say that while the full stop is the lumpen male of the punctuation world (do one job at a time; do it well; forget about it instantly), the apostrophe is the frantically multi-tasking female, dotting hither and yon, and succumbing to burnout from all the thankless effort.’

She enters the shoals of comma use and sorts out all those commas, including the notorious Oxford comma, in trenchant form, then goes on to colons and semi-colons: ‘Perspicuity and beauty of composition are not to be sneezed at in this rotten world. If colons and semi-colons give themselves airs and graces, at least they also confer airs and graces that the language would be lost without.’

Moving on to exclamation marks, she gets entertainingly exercised: ‘In the family of punctuation, where the full stop is daddy and the comma is mummy, and the semicolon quietly practises the piano with crossed hands, the exclamation mark is the big attention-deficit brother who gets over-excited and breaks things and laughs too loudly.’

But her real passion is for the necessity of punctuation, the reason why it really matters: ‘we should fight like tigers to preserve our punctuation… Proper punctuation is both the sign and the cause of clear thinking. If it goes, the degree of intellectual impoverishment we face is unimaginable.’

I can only cheer her on.

 

© Chris HolifieldChris HolifieldManaging director of WritersServices; spent working life in publishing,employed by everything from global corporations to start-ups; track record includes: editorial director of Sphere Books, publishing director of The Bodley Head, publishing director for start-up of upmarket book club, The Softback Preview, editorial director of Britain’s biggest book club group, BCA, and, most recently, deputy MD and publisher of Cassell & Co. She is also currently the Director of the Poetry Book Society; During all of this time aware of problems faced by writers, as publishing changed from idiosyncratic cottage industry, 'occupation for gentlemen', into corporate business of today. Writers encountered increasing difficulty in getting books edited or published. Authors create the books which are the raw material for the whole business. She believes it is time to bring them back to centre stage. 2003 Reviewed by Chris Holifield

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List price: £9.99
Publisher: Profile Books
2003-11-06
Hardcover
Sales rank: 8,080


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