Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Eats, Shoots and Leaves by Lynne Truss

Please don't complain about my use of punctuation just because I read this book! I often spot mistakes in print, but I'm sure I miss my own often enough.

Eats, Shoots & Leaves is a hilarious treatment of punctuation and its misuse.

One area that I've often hesitated over in my own writing is where to place the terminal punctuation for a sentence that ends in quotation marks. I'm now considering adopting the British usage, which allows one to put the period (or "full stop," as the British refer to it) outside the quotation marks in certain situations. American usage dictates that terminal punctuation always goes inside of quotation marks. Truss's example is:

Sophia asked Lord Fellamar if he was "out of his senses". (British)
Sophia asked Lord Fellamar if he was "out of his senses." (American)

Another British vs. American usage issue is referred to as "the Oxford comma." (I never knew it had a name!) This is the comma that immediately precedes the "and" in a list of several items. I was taught that this comma was optional, but my preference is generally to use it, which Truss says is standard in America. I'm not sure how accurate that is, though, as it seems I see it left out more often than not.

The section on extraneous quotation marks brings to mind The "Blog" of "Unnecessary" Quotation Marks, which is always good for a laugh.

If you've ever read Strunk and White's The Elements of Style for fun, then you are certainly one of Truss's grammatical sticklers and will love her book. If you only found The Elements of Style tolerable, you'll still love Eats, Shoots & Leaves. If you couldn't stand The Elements of Style, there is still a good chance you'll enjoy Truss's book because of gems like this:

In the meantime, what can be done by those of us sickened by the state of apostrophe abuse? First, we must refute the label 'dinosaurs' (I really hate that). And second, we must take up arms. Here are the weapons required in the apostrophe war (stop when you start to feel uncomfortable):
correction fluid
big pens
stickers cut in a variety of sizes, both plain (for sticking over unwanted apostrophes) and coloured (for inserting where apostrophes are needed)
tin of paint with big brush
guerrilla-style clothing
strong medication for personality disorder

But then, if you aren't offended by the misuse of apostrophes, the book probably won't have much appeal.


Laura said...

I *do* love The Elements of Style ("Omit needless words" is probably the most beautiful sentence in the English language!) and I have this book on the shelf, but haven't read it yet.

Enjoyed your review - perhaps this will be the year that I take the plunge and read it!

At A Hen's Pace said...

I keep hearing about this one--gotta read it.

I liked the quote. Thanks for the "taste"!


Carrie said...

Well, I don't usually notice punctuation errors and when I do, I'm not terribly bothered by them. However, that did not prevent me from thoroughly enjoying this book! I found it absolutely hilarious. Glad to know you did also. Thanks for the review.

SmallWorld said...

I absolutely LOVED this book! Be sure to read her Talk to the Hand if you haven't yet!
Visiting from Semicolon's Saturday Review,

Girl Detective said...

I followed you from Semicolon. I got both this and Talk to the Hand for Christmas, so I'm glad to hear good things about them. I, too, am often baffled by the inside/outside question of quote marks. I saw what Truss calls the "Oxford" comma referred to at another site as the "Harvard" comma.