Eats, Shoots and Leaves
is a book about punctuation
author Lynne Truss
Yes, the entire book is only about punctuation. No, it is not a textbook. Yes, it is interesting. No, you probably won't like it if you don't know the proper use of an apostrophe.
The title is based off of a joke referred to as "the panda joke." In this joke, a panda goes into a café, eats a sandwich, and then takes out a gun. He fires two shots into the air and moves toward the door. Perplexed, the bartender asks him why he did that. "I'm a panda," he replies, tossing a badly-punctuated wildlife manual at the man. "Look it up." Inside, the panda's entry reads as follows: "Panda. Large bear-like mammal native to China. Eats, shoots and leaves."
On this premise, the book asserts that punctuation IS important . . . even if it is--and I quote--"only occasionally a matter of life and death."
The book was created largely out of Ms. Truss's feeling of helplessness regarding the state of things in the punctuation world. Seeing that Warner Bros. put out a movie called Two Weeks Notice (WITHOUT THE PROPER APOSTROPHE) put her into such a fit that she missed a train. How could this get by people in the communication industry? How could it be that NO one involved in making this movie had ever thought to tell someone in charge, "You know, there should be an apostrophe after 'weeks'"? What is grammar school FOR, I ask you??
So, sprinkled with funny anecdotes and examples of misused language (both found by the author and submitted by her readers), Ms. Truss takes us on a journey of learning about punctuation. With notes about how English usage is different from American, she systematically attacks misconceptions and incorrect usage. The "lessons" are written humorously as well, giving us funny recurring examples and even a bit of the punctuation story's history. (When talking about an influential printer whose punctuation system revolutionized the written word, Ms. Truss comments that she is now kicking herself for never tracking him down and offering to have his babies.)
The book is a step in the right direction; it seeks to actually give us the necessary lessons WHILE--and this is important--showing us how goofy we are if we do not heed her wisdom. She manages to frame people who misuse punctuation as complete fools, people at whom the educated world laughs. And--even better--she encourages us to become punctuation activists, armed with correction fluid, black markers, punctuation mark cutouts in all sizes, and . . . medication for a personality disorder. (Yes, she realizes she is neurotic, and completely embraces it, pulling her readers along.) N-Wing was kind enough to note that the paperback version of the book actually includes stickers of appropriate punctuation so the punctuation guerrilla can get right to work.
The book covers apostrophes, quotation marks, all terminal punctuation, dashes, hyphens, colons and semicolons, commas, parentheses and brackets, ellipses, and even some fun things like italics (as well as discussions of punctuation flops like the interrobang). Strangely enough, it is not a very rigid book. It has discussions of where there is room for interpretation or preference (such as in the case of Oxford comma vs. Harvard comma), and it recognizes that there are gray areas.
If you are a grammar nerd, you will love this book. If you are not a grammar nerd and need some brush-ups on your punctuation, you will also love this book. If you do not think the panda joke is funny or, worse, don't get it . . . well, don't bother.
A couple of quotes from the book for those who might be interested to sample the author's style:
"We are like the little boy in The Sixth Sense who can see dead people, except that we can see dead punctuation. Whisper it in petrified little-boy tones: dead punctuation is invisible to everyone else--yet we see it all the time. No one understands us seventh-sense people. They regard us as freaks. When we point out illiterate mistakes we are often aggressively instructed to 'get a life' by people who, interestingly, display no evidence of having lives themselves."
"To those who care about punctuation, a sentence such as 'Thank God its Friday' (without the apostrophe) rouses feelings not only of despair but of violence. The confusion of the possessive 'its' (no apostrophe) with the contractive 'it's' (with apostrophe) is an unequivocal signal of illiteracy and sets off a simple Pavlovian 'kill' response in the average stickler. . . . Getting your itses mixed up is the greatest solecism in the world of punctuation. No matter that you have a PhD and have read all of Henry James twice. If you persist in writing 'Good food at it's best', you deserve to be struck by lightning, hacked up on the spot and buried in an unmarked grave."
And that, as they say, is that.
There is a group here on E2 called e2pandas, named in honor of this book. As you can imagine, the e2pandas are grammar nerds and language buffs. Let the guerilla editing begin!
Source: Reading Eats, Shoots and Leaves. More information available at www.eatsshootsandleaves.com .