Lynne Truss

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

(Reviewed by Poornima Apte SEP 16, 2004)

Eats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss

At the outset, I must admit that I was driven to write this review by a letter that I received in the mail recently. I shall not reveal the identity of the writer; suffice it to say that this person is well-educated and needs to have a fundamental grasp of punctuation for her job. Here is the part that had me reeling: “If your going to be cooking this…” it said. I stopped dead in my tracks and made a mental correction: “you’re not your.” Later in the day, I had to meet a friend at a local café. The mistake was still nagging at me so I brought it up and complained about it to my friend. She sympathized and then promptly changed the subject. It happened again, and again. That was when I realized: I was a punctuation stickler--someone who could seek solace only in Lynne Truss’s (the ‘s belongs there, Truss assures us), marvelous little book, Eats, Shoots and Leaves.

“Part of one’s despair, of course, is that the world cares nothing for the little shocks endured by the sensitive stickler,” writes Truss, “While we look in horror at a badly punctuated sign, the world carries on around us, blind to our plight. We are like the little boy in The Sixth Sense who can see dead people, except that we can see dead punctuation.”

Truss breezes through all the punctuation characters in a breezy conversational manner. Her book is downright funny in practically every page, such as here: “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 still 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.”

Truss also weaves in the origins of punctuation marks and tells stories with a wry sense of humor. Her descriptions of even the most mundane subjects are lively and vivid: “In the family of punctuation, where the full stop is daddy and the comma is mummy, and the semicolon quietly practices 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.”

At a time when most communication seems to be taken over by Internet instant messaging, and cell phone text messages, Eats, Shoots and Leaves is definitely a timely clarion call to preserve good language and good punctuation. “Forget the idea of selecting the right words in the right order and channeling the reader’s attention by means of artful pointing,” Truss writes decrying the excessive use of emoticons in emails, “Just add the right emoticon to your email and everyone will know what self-expressive effect you thought you kind-of-had in mind. Anyone interested in punctuation has a dual reason to be aggrieved about smileys, because not only are they a paltry substitute for expressing oneself properly; they are also designed by people who evidently thought the punctuation marks on the standard keyboard cried out for an ornamental function.”

Truss is right about the fact that we do need to care about punctuation and about good writing. It is not an issue solely reserved for the elite educated classes. “Caring about matters of language is unfortunately generally associated with small-minded people, but that doesn’t make it a small issue,” Truss writes, “The disappearance of punctuation (including word spacing, capital letters, and so on) indicates an enormous shift in our attitude to the written word, and nobody knows where it will end.”

For language’s sake, one hopes that it will not end badly. As long as there are the likes of Lynne Truss in the world, we can rest assured that it is not all over—at least, not yet. Arguably, just as important, punctuation sticklers can now come out of the closet. With Lynne Truss by our sides, we would perhaps not feel the need to “weep friendlessly in caves” anymore. Thanks, Lynne

  • Amazon readers rating: from 531 reviews

Read a chapter excerpt from Eats, Shoots and Leaves at the author's website



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About the Author:

Lynn TrussLynn Truss began her writing life as a literary journalist, editing the books section of The Listener magazine between 1986 and1990. Since then she has kept a high profile as a journalist, writing for The Times as a critic, columnist and sportswriter (shortlisted for Sportswriter of the Year 1997); for Woman's Journal ("Columnist of the Year", 1996); and more recently as a critic for the Daily Mail and The Sunday Times, where she is a regular book reviewer. She has published six books, including three novels and and numerous radio comedy dramas. Lynne also hosted Cutting a Dash, a popular BBC Radio 4 series about punctuation. She lives in Brighton, England.

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