Strange Brouhaha

Monday, July 04, 2005

Eats, Shoots & Leaves

A panda walks into a cafe. He orders a sandwich, eats it, then draws a gun and fires two shots in the air.

"Why?" asks the confused waiter, as the panda makes towards the exit. The panda produces a badly punctuated wildlife manual and tosses it over his shoulder.

"I'm a panda," he says, at the door. "Look it up."

The waiter turns to the relevant entry and, sure enough, finds an explanation.

"Panda. Large black-and-white bear-like mammal, native to China. Eats, shoots and leaves."

I admit it: bad grammar and punctuation drive me nuts. Absolutely nuts. I try desperately to punctuate everything properly, even emails. I don't always succeed, but I try.

Admittedly, bad punctuation doesn't drive me as crazy as it drives Lynne Truss. Her book Eats, Shoots & Leaves is a treatise--a manifesto, if you will--on the proper use of a few tiny printer's marks: the comma, the quotation mark, the benighted colon and semicoln, with some mention (but short shrift) given to hyphens, dashes, brackets, the question mark and the exclamation point. It's mostly snarky ("...don't use commas like a stupid person. I mean it."), occasionally informative (interesting tidbits on Aldus Manutius the Elder and Younger, as well as doctrinary disputes over where exactly to punctuate the previously-unpunctuated Bible), and always well-written.

In short, this book is nothing like you'd expect a book about punctuation to be. In its 200 or so pages, Truss manages to dissect awful usage, make jokes, give history lessons, and concisely explain proper usage of punctuation. She also discusses changing usage patterns, and gently explains that some of the things you learned in school--no matter when you went to school--no longer apply today. (As a random example, when I took typing, we were told in no uncertain terms that you always put TWO SPACES after a period. That is not the case today.)

Even if you know all of this stuff, it's entertaining reading. Perhaps especially if you know all of this stuff; that way, you can laugh along with the jokes, rather than wonder why Ms. Truss is so hellbent on correcting every poster for the movie "Two Weeks Notice" that she can.

I'm off to buy some correcting fluid and a thick marker. It's time to be a punctuation vigilante.


  • (Josh) Maybe I'm reading too much into this, but the books are about some girls who share pants and the author's name is "Bra shares"? That's quite a goofy coincidence.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8:28 AM  

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