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171 of 186 found the following review helpful:
Is John Updike a Menace to Society?May 27, 2004
By Allen Smalling
Readers, check your reaction to the following sentence:
Lynne Truss, an English grammarian is bloody fed up with sloppy punctuation.
Does that sentence leave you feeling confused, irritated, or angry? Do you feel you have to second-guess the author of the sentence, forced to ascertain whether s/he was writing to Lynne Truss or about Ms. Truss?
But that sort of thing is almost the norm these days, on both sides of the Atlantic. Of course, we Americans have been struggling for years with FRESH DONUT'S DAILY and Your Server: "MILLY" -- not to mention the archy-and-mehitabel school of e-mail that neither capitalizes nor punctuates and reading through this kind of sentence really gets confusing i think it does at least do you too?
Turns out that even the British--including the elite "Oxbridge" inteligentsia--are wildly ignorant of punctuation's rules and standards. Lynne Truss, an English grammarian and author of EATS, SHOOTS & LEAVES, is bloody fed up with it! So she wrote this handy little book that is ever-so-correct but not condescending, sometimes savage but not silly, full of mission and totally without mush.
Think of Truss as punctuation's own Miss Manners, a combination of leather and lace, with maybe a bit more emphasis on the leather. (She advocates forming possees to paint out incorrect apostrophes in movie placards.) But her examples of bad punctuation serve a purpose: bad punctuation distorts meaning. EATS, SHOOTS & LEAVES includes numerous hilarious backfires of punctuation -- statements and missives that use the exact same words but convey totally opposite messages due to inappropriate punctuation.
Do commas go where they go for breathing, as the do-it-naturally school of non-grammar so many of us were exposed to would have it? Or were they for Medieval chanting or, more analytically, for grammar? Truss explains that it's a mish-mosh of all three, and proceeds to make useful sense of it all. Along the way she confesses she would have gladly borne the children of the 15th-Century Italian typographer who invented Italics and the forward-slash.
With its blend of high dudgeon and helpfulness, Truss steers the reader through the shoals of possession and apostrophes, quotations (British use is a bit differerent from North American, but only a bit, and she notes the difference), the useful if forlorn semicolon, the mighty colon, the bold and (mea culpa) overused dash and other interrupters like parenthesees and commas.
It's important to note that Truss, while something of a true believer, is a believer who lives in the 21st Century. She does not advocate turning back the clock to the 1906 version of Fowler's MODERN ENGLISH USAGE; she is not a snob; she does not overwhelm us with technical terms of grammar and punctuation for their own sake. Just good, common-sense English prescriptive lessons in grammar. People who know they don't know their stuff will learn the right stuff there. People who felt that "the rules" have somehow become archaic in the last thirty years will be happy to see that there are still rules, and while they have become more fluid and pragmatic, they haven't changed inordinately. "It's" still means "It is" and "Its" is still a possessive: "It's a wise publisher that knows its public," say.
Best of all, the teaching is conveyed with wit, bite, and in a snappy tome easy to carry and inexpensive. I'm a former English teacher and I couldn't help but learn and laugh. Highly recommended.
Oh, John Updike? He uses comma faults all that time, that's a sentence like this that splices main clauses together with a comma, maybe using semicolons or starting a new sentence would be better. For us mere mortals, though, standard punctuation fits the norm: once we become world-famous, then we can punctuate at will.
61 of 64 found the following review helpful:
Punctuation PandemoniumJun 03, 2004
By dennis wentraub
Here's a small book you'll want to stuff in your pocket for that next flight or train trip to pass the time and avoid the embarrassment of having to explain to people you know that you're chuckling over a book on punctuation. Oddly enough the quite funny joke on which the title is based only appears on the dust jacket. But there is enough deadpan humor, historical trivia, and useful information in this modest work to make up for the lapse. If you think punctuation is just a collection of gratuitous furbelows with strict rules intended to keep grade school teachers, snobs, and compulsive personalities preoccupied, take a deep breath. To be sure our author Lynne Truss is a punctuation vigilante and does not take these matters lightly. Offenses to the language put her into a royal snit. Her temperament inclines to "zero tolerance", but in practice Truss recognizes the need for flexibility. The written presentation of our language is dynamic and continues to evolve. The preservation of punctuation rather than a fussy observance of rules is her goal. Maybe just maybe that preservation motive explains her regret at not mothering the children of the 16th century Venetian printer, Aldus Manutius the Elder, for whom we have to thank for italics and semicolons.
Our present day punctuation began with Greek dramatists providing actors with cues for their onstage delivery. With the development of printing, printers became the innovators for this notational art. Over time conventions developed governing their use and were codified as rules. Creative types bristle at most forms of restraint. Gertrude Stein thought commas to be "servile", semicolons "pretentious", and question marks "completely uninteresting". George Bernard Shaw called apostrophes "uncouth bacilli". Contrast these punctuation anarchists with 18th century essayist Joseph Robertson who saw the "art" of punctuation to be of "infinite consequence" in writing. In the interent age Truss sees email and text messaging posing a significant threat to punctuation. Writers become "senders" with idiosyncratic phrases (e.g."CU B4 8"), emoticons (viz. smiley faces), and other hasty expediences. Truss can only shake her head to where this may be leading.
Truss makes a serious point simply enough. Punctuation provides the traffic signals that keep words from banging into one another. In a complicated, poetic, and dangerous world punctuation can help render thoughts with clarity. Punctuation is both the sign and the cause of clear thinking. In legal, political, and personal matters this should be remembered. Hmm...maybe it's the neurotics' obsession for detail that keeps us all on track.
78 of 84 found the following review helpful:
Incredible: An Entertaining Punctuation ManifestoApr 12, 2004
By R. Hardy
"If there is one lesson that is to be learned from this book, it is that there is never a dull moment in the world of punctuation." Perhaps that is hyperbole, but there is never a dull moment in _Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation_ (Gotham Books) by Lynne Truss. Surely the book will not be the sensation it was in Britain, but it is witty, informative, and entertaining; you can't ask for more from a punctuation manual. And if you do not yet think that punctuation is important, you will after you see all the misunderstandings a little comma can cause. Take the peculiar title, which is from a joke: A panda goes into a café, orders a sandwich, eats it, takes out a revolver, fires it into the air, and goes out. When the waiter calls to ask what is going on, the panda plunks a badly punctuated wildlife manual onto the table and growls: "Look me up." The waiter finds the entry: "PANDA. Large, black-and-white, bear-like mammal native to China. Eats, shoots and leaves." Oh, let's have one more. There was an American actor playing Duncan in _Macbeth_, listening with concern to the battle story of a wounded soldier, who cheerfully called out: "Go get him, surgeons!" Misplaced comma; it should of course be: "Go, get him surgeons!" Another story related here, a true one, shows that a comma can literally be a life-or-death matter.
The book is zero tolerance indeed. Truss says it doesn't matter if you have a PhD and have read all of Henry James twice, "If you still persist in writing, 'Good food at it's best', you deserve ..." and she lists some ghastly punishments. Such militantism surely qualifies her for the Apostrophe Protection Society, a real organization that (along with Truss) is horrified by commercial signs that announce "Antique's" or "Apple's". The recent film _Two Weeks Notice_ gives her recurrent fits. She wants to know if they would have called it _One Weeks Notice_. She suggests that we enlist in the apostrophe war, arming ourselves with correction fluid, stickers to cover superfluous apostrophes, and markers with which to insert omitted ones. But best of all, she gives, simply and generously, the rules that will guide one in any apostrophic situation. Plus there is history. In Shakespeare's time, the apostrophe only indicated omitted letters, as it still does in "doesn't." Then in the 17th century printers put it in front of singular possessive "s," and in the 18th they put it after the plural possessive "s," and here we are.
You can turn to this little volume for guidance on the dash, hyphen, colon, semicolon, and more. The rules are here. American readers should note that theirs is a reprint of the British edition, without changes to spelling or punctuation. Often Truss mentions the differences, but she would vehemently deny that this shows that punctuation rules are arbitrary. Punctuation "... is a system of printers' marks that has aided the clarity of the written word for the past half-millennium." The conventions evolved slowly, in conversation between printers and readers. Truss worries that printing will decline in our e-age. A printed book has been edited and fussed over, but e-mail often does not even bother with capital letters. Truss thinks that since punctuation represents an effort of a considerate writer to guide a reader into a correct interpretation, the lack of e-punctuation has lead to clumsy explanations, like "Just kidding!" or even "JK!" having to be added to get a tone across, or the (to her) grievous incorporation of her beloved punctuation into emoticons or smileys. "Punctuation as we know it... is in for a rocky time," she says. But her book is a call to sticklers like herself: "I am all the more convinced we should fight like tigers to preserve our punctuation, and we should start now." This delightful style manual has been turned into a manifesto by an author in love with her subject.
515 of 603 found the following review helpful:
On your best behaviorJun 05, 2004
By Eric J. Lyman
The only thing that most of the reviews about this book has in common is their grammar and punctuation -- most folks seem to love the book, several rail against it, and a handful appear to have no opinion. But almost nobody has been willing to read this unlikely best seller and then write a review that ignores the lessons about punctuation the book focuses on. That in itself offers strong proof about its value.
Eats, Shoots & Leaves is a charming book and an unusual success story, and I applaud it for bringing to the fore a debate about the aspect of our language that has suffered most from its inundation under a sea of Internet chat and cellular text messaging. Using a mix of humor and anecdotes, author and journalist Lynne Truss manages to create a highly readable and enjoyable primer that not only explains how punctuation works but why it is important.
If you have any doubt, witness the sentence: "A woman without her man is nothing." Now add two lonely punctuation marks and the meaning is turned on its head: "A woman: without her, man is nothing." The title of the book is another example -- it is supposed to be a description of the diet of pandas, but because of poor punctuation it sounds more like a complaint about a murderous dinner guest.
Fair warning: American readers might have problems with some of Ms. Truss's vocabulary (a "fag" is a cigarette in England; "rubbers" are erasers), and her statements about placing all punctuation marks outside quotation marks and the frequency with which she uses Britishisms like "actually" and "obviously" will stand out to readers already comfortable with their grip on grammar and punctuation. A lot of those problems could have been eliminated by putting the manuscript in the hands of a thoughtful editor before releasing it in the United States.
I also have a problem with treating punctuation as an end rather than as a means to an end. I think anyone who writes even a grocery list while trying to remember thousands of often archaic and obscure rules could starve to death before they ever make it to the supermarket. The ultimate goal should be to make the writer's intent clear. Punctuation is simply a tool to that end.
33 of 35 found the following review helpful:
Ms. Truss's Losing BattlesMay 15, 2004
By H. F. Corbin
Lynne Truss writes a wickedly funny treatise on the death-- if we, the faithful who care about apostrophes, are not armed and ready to fight the barbarians-- of punctuation as we know it. Of course, her dilemma is that only people who care about correct punctuation are the ones who will read this fascinating book. Those who are most guilty will not or cannot read her.
But for those of us who read this book there are wonderful tidbits. For example, Oliver Wendell Holmes said that We have to dismount from an idea and get back into the saddle again at every parenthesis while the writer Gertrude Stein found question marks the most uninteresting of all punctuation marks. F. Scott Fitzgerald said that the exclamation point (as it is known in America) is "like laughing at your own jokes." My favorite image from the book is that of the semicolon that "quietly practises the piano with crossed hands."
For those of us who care, Ms. Truss gives a good review of the rules of punctution. She discusses thoroughly the correct use of all forms of punctuation, from the apostrophe to the hyphen, and compares the differences between British and American usage. She also discusses the blight that e-mail messages have brought on us all. "I keep thinking that what we do now, with this medium of instant delivery, isn't writing, and doesn't even qualify as typing either: it's just sending. What did you do today? Sent a lot of stuff."
I fear that punctuation problems are worse on this side of the pond than they are in England. I attended a black tie event recently for over 300 people in which words large enough to be read from the back of the dinning hall were projected on a huge screen behind the speaker. The apostrophe was used over and over to express the plural, rather than the possessive of words. I felt as obsolete as a rotary telephone.
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