Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation by Lynne Truss
Punctuation matters. Something as simple as leaving a comma out of a sentence can change the meaning in very humorous ways. Unfortunately, many people are making grammar errors without that intent. I often cringe at the writing I see online.
But, like Truss says in this book, “It’s tough being a stickler for punctuation these days. One almost dare not get up in the morning.”
“We are like the little boy in The Sixth Sense who can see dead people, except we can see dead punctuation. . . dead punctuation is invisible to everyone else.”
Punctuation is a Courtesy
“designed to help readers to understand a story without stumbling. . . Truly good manners are invisible: they ease the way for others, without drawing attention to themselves.”
Used to Politely Hold the Door
“a sentence no longer holds the door open for you to walk in, but drops it in your face as you approach.”
And Direct Us Where to Go
“Punctuation directs you how to read, in the way musical notation directs a musician how to play.”
“On the page, punctuation performs its grammatical function, but in the mind of the reader it does more than that. It tells the reader how to hum the tune.”
We Need It, But Don’t Need to be Sticklers
“Somewhere between these positions is where I want us to end up: staunch because we understand the advantages of being staunch; flexible because we understand the rational and historical necessity to be flexible.”
Because Everyone is a Writer Now
“… teachers upheld the view that grammar and spelling got in the way of self-expression, it is arguable that the timing of their grammatical apathy could not have been worse. In the 1970s, no educationist would have predicted the explosion in universal written communication caused by the personal computer, the internet and the key-pad of the mobile phone. But now, look what’s happened: everyone’s a writer.”
Use Commas Properly, Please
“More than any other mark, the comma draws our attention to the mixed origins of modern punctuation, and its consequent mingling of two quite distinct functions:
- To illuminate the grammar of a sentence
- To point up – rather in the manner of musical notation – such literary qualities as rhythm, direction, pitch, tone and flow”
Don’t Get Sucked In
“The ellipsis is the black hole of the punctuation universe, surely, into which no right-minded person would willingly be sucked.
- To indicate words missing … from a quoted passage
- To trail off in an intriguing manner …”
The Reality of Our Non-Linear World
“Having grown up as readers of the printed word (and possibly even scribblers in margins), we may take for granted the processes involved in the traditional activity of reading – so let us remind ourselves. The printed word is presented to us in a linear way, with syntax supreme in conveying the sense of the words in their order. We read privately, mentally listening to the writer’s voice and translating the writer’s thoughts. The book remains static and fixed; the reader journeys through it. Picking up the book in the first place entails an active pursuit of understanding. Holding the book, we are aware of posterity and continuity. Knowing that the printed word is always edited, typeset and proof-read before it reaches us, we appreciate its literary authority. Having paid money for it (often), we have a sense of investment and a pride of ownership, not to mention a feeling of general virtue.
All these conditions for reading are overturned by the new technologies. Information is presented to us in a non-linear way, through an exponential series of lateral associations. The internet is a public ‘space’ which you visit, and even inhabit; its product is inherently impersonal and disembodied.”
People Don’t Write Anymore, They Just Send
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 send today? Sent a lot of stuff. “Don’t forget to send, dear.”
A Fascinating Read
Who reads a book that is solely about punctuation? I know it won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but I think there is something within these pages for everyone. I quite enjoyed it and perhaps you will too!
My List of 2020 Reads – my annual reading (b)log