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Eats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss

June 24, 2011

This is a fine little book about punctuation. Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation was an amusing read for me, but I’m not certain it’s for everyone.
If you cringe, or at least laugh, at mispunctuated signs I’d recommend this for you. If you’re curious about how to really use a semicolon, you’d be better off asking your friendly neighborhood English teacher (or Googling it); this book explains how to do it, yes, but there’s a lot of banter that prevents this from being efficient instruction.

This book is 204 pages of example, history and how-to. Why does this matter? According to author Lynne Truss (201):

We have a language full of ambiguities; we have a way of expressing ourselves that is often complex and allusive, poetic and modulated; all our thoughts can be rendered with absolute clarity if we bother to put the right dots and squiggles between the words in the right places. Proper punctuation is both the sign and the cause of clear thinking.

Therefore, we can’t go the way of those rotten teenagers and SPK TXT, nor can we go the way of dead Futurist F.T. Marinetti and communicate “with unhampered words and with no connecting strings of syntax and no punctuation” (184). No, no, all that ambiguity would cause mayhem, you know? This book didn’t need to convince me of such, however; I’m already a fan of correct punctuation. What I found helpful was the clearing-up of certain ambiguities (the differences in American and British usage of terminal punctuation with quotation marks, for example).

It was a very enjoyable read, but I wouldn’t recommend it to the average civilian. If you aren’t already anal retentive about punctuation, I don’t think this book will turn you into the type who corrects apostrophes on signs.


P.S. Thank you, Lynne Truss, for introducing me to my new 15th Century hero, Aldus Manutius the Elder. This scholarly printer invented italics and established firm rules for using a semicolon. LOVE HIM.

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