on 4 August 2006
A panda enters a restaurant, orders a sandwich, eats it, then draws a gun and fires two shots in the air. The reason: according to the wildlife manual that he carries he is supposed to behave this way: a panda "eats, shoots and leaves". How one comma too many can change the life of a peaceful animal like a panda... This hilarious "zero-tolerance guide to punctuation" not only explores why people have problems with punctuation, but also explains in a thought-provoking way how punctuation should be used and what the role(s) of the different punctuation signs sare in helping people to understand the text before them. And not only such well-known signs as the apostrophe (a sign on an American restaurant stating "nigger's out" is NOT the same as "niggers out"), the period and the comma are discussed; the semicolon, the hyphen and the ellipsis are explained as well, with examples that make you snigger and read on. And I have probably made a zillion mistakes in the punctuation of the previous few sentences, but I still have the feeling that the book helped me (as a non-native speaker) to better how and when to use punctuation when writing English.
I have huge admiration for Lynne Truss and for what she has accomplished with this book. She has provoked a debate about the written English language which will serve it well, and has stimulated many thousands of people to actually care about what they are writing and how they are writing it.
I expected to love the book, but was surprised by how difficult it was to enjoy.
The problem is not in the meat of the book, the middle section, which is all about the history, evolution and use of popular punctuation. That's the best bit of it and is thoroughly informative and good reading.
The opening chapters are the major issue; Lynne hectors and rants and has a good old moan about how awful everything is. Frankly, it's hard going even if you are a perfect punctuator. For someone who has learned a little grammar the hard way, by picking it up as I go along and by figuring out the rules from well-written examples, I found it all rather oppressive. 15 years ago I was one of those people who didn't know where on earth to put an apostrophe, and it was hard not to feel vaguely insulted and rather embarrassed by the opening section's torrent of scorn and outrage.
If you persevere then you'll be rewarded by the middle sections which are much more fun, more fact-based, and as a result are more educational.
The end, again, slithers back into a rant against modern communication and a gloomy, miserable outlook that we're all doomed, laddy, to use emoticons and thus forsake the elegance of language itself.
Lynne says that this is not a textbook, nor a grammatical guide, and she recommends several other books for people who really want to know more about the hard rules (and soft rules) of written English.
"Eats, Shoots and Leaves..." is not such a book.
It's an entertainment.
It's probably most rewarding for those folk who enjoyed a "proper" education and who can smugly agree with every word Lynne says (probably without having to put those rules into practise very often).
For anyone who has experienced an education in the UK's comprehensive system in the last 25 years, this isn't a particularly helpful or inspiring volume. Try something like the Sunday Times "Wordpower" guide instead; which is full of concise information and which isn't full of judgmental comment.
on 21 November 2003
There are so many words to describe this book: hilarious, learned, helpful, entertaining, punctilious, warm-hearted, open-minded and, dare I write such a faux pas, "unputdownable".
As soon as I read this book I bought a copy for a friend. That friend has just phoned me from a bus to quote the book back to me, such was her enjoyment. It's that kind of book. At this moment in time she is probably clearing the top deck of a number 38 because she's laughing like a child; she may even have taken a step closer to the asylum and is reading out loud to her fellow travellers.
I should explain, for anyone who may think that this book is a work of self-congratulation for over-educated, girly-armed literary types, that underpinning this desperately funny book is Lynne Truss's frank admission that she is a puntuation pedant, a stickler who has lost all sense of proportion. When she describes her irritation at badly puntuated market traders' signs, the object is that we laugh at her comically misplaced irrascibility, not to assume for one moment that someone capable of writing such an expansive, humorous and helpful book is also bent on shaming vast swathes of the nation's readers who, through no fault of their own, do not know everything there is to know about punctuation.
However, there is a warning that go with this book. You read it, you laugh out loud, then you buy a copy for a friend. Thereafter, everyone who reads this book will begin spending an absurdly long time punctuating their emails, text messages and shopping lists. Read this book. As Truss says, all you have to lose is your sense of proportion.
on 26 September 2011
Some years ago, UKIP was taking up the cause of "The Metric Martyr", a "patriotic" greengrocer who was determined not to use metric weights. His image was rather spoilt by his sign for "sprout's". This is just the sort of person to whom Lynne Truss should be directing her book: a proud Englishman who needs help with his native language. But alas, no: in her introduction she says that it is not for that sort of person,. It's for "people who love punctuation and get upset about it". Why? Surely such people don't need to read this book? Perhaps the book should be used a text book in schools. It would be very useful in that context.
Certainly it's worth reading. It makes some sound points, helped by Lynne Truss's customary humour. It argues against pedantry and obsession, and, citing GB Shaw, it points out that "one may lose one's sense of proportion when obsessed by matters of language". Also she accepts that language moves on: we no longer refer to a 'bus or a 'phone, for example.
But at the end of the day, although Lynne Truss has strong feelings on the matter (as I do), I suspect that it will have little or no impact on the people who are damaging our language. And that's a pity.
on 11 January 2007
The book essentially gives you a history/discussion of punctuation marks, some fairly humorous examples of poor usage and advocates the merits of good punctuation. I purchased it for entertainment purposes but I also half expected that it would give you something of a guide on correct usage. In some ways it does this but as the author states, this is certainly not a holistic tutorial on how to use punctuation marks. If you want a book of this nature then there are many good ones out there.
With that said this book certainly isn't a waste of time, it's full of genuinely interesting facts about where punctuation conventions originated and some of the incredibly heated debates touched on are hilarious. However I'm inclined to agree with some of the reviews which found the tone (or even the premise) a little galling. That's down to personal taste of course, but for all the justification given in the introduction about preserving the language I was left with a strong impression that the real intention of the book is to satisfy the author's vanity at the expense of others' mistakes. It seems to fall into the classic trap of assuming everyone's a punctuation ignoramus until they prove otherwise, as evidenced by the section on those 'lying' about using perfect punctuation in mobile phone text messages, for instance. I think the real mistake is assuming that the odd isolated punctuation mistake is enough to generalise ignorance to the rest of the population.
So overall then, it has enough facts to keep you interested and at times is very enjoyable, but the tone can and will put off certain readers so beware.
on 27 February 2006
If you care about punctuation then this book is a real treat.
At the beginning of this book Lynne Truss bemoans signs in shops (and other public places) which are punctuated incorrectly and she includes some of the blunders she has read. I must admit that I relate to this as I have shaken my head at the missing apostrophes in some shop signs!
As well as the incorrect use of apostrophes though this book looks at the history and use of punctuation marks from commas and explanation marks to colons and semi-colons. Personally I found it really interesting.
This book is not a conventional punctuation handbook but if you are finding any element of punctuation difficult then this book could help. If you find yourself overwhelmed by some punctuation books which talk about prepositions, possessors, conjunctions and subordinate clauses then this book provides clear examples of sentences which are punctuated wrongly and rightly and it also explains why.
A great book which is not only informative but interesting and humorous - I never know so many funny things could be written about humble punctuation marks!
on 15 March 2005
I loved this book. It is short, and light reading, and very true. There are so many grammatical errors around us, and Truss has made a point to let us know. When I first started to read it, she did seem a little obsessed with it all, and appeared to take it too far, however, this made it all the more interesting to read.
For a little while after I had finished the book, I found myself thinking things like "Should this comma be here? Or should I put it after the speech marks? Maybe there shouldn't be a hyphen, but a colon instead..." I think people will learn from this book, as it is true what she says that as children, we aren't taught to focus as much on ensuring our punctuation is accurate maybe as much as we should.
Go and have a read - and a chuckle, as it is written with humour, and see what you think for yourself...
on 20 July 2004
As a former lecturer in support English at FE level, an avid reader and a punctuation fanatic, I enjoyed this book immensely.
Criticism of Lynn Truss for not providing a primer of punctuation, missed the point. The lady is a writer of comic novels and journalism as well, who cast her commedienne's eye over punctuation,and the result was informative and very entertaining. Read this for enjoyment and learn as you do so. I was reduced to laughing so much that it hurt, and find myself spotting even more punctuation howlers than I did previously. I wonder if we can persuade Ms Truss to turn her perceptive eye to the misuse of English grammar for her next venture into non fiction.
on 20 January 2004
Most of the negative criticism of this book appears to come from the very "sticklers" that the author claims to address. It is a pity, however, that such sticklers don't share the author's (fairly over-the-top) sense of humour. (They could also use a few lessons in grammar and punctuation, as most of the "errors" they claim to have identified in this book are simply accepted variations in usage.)
This is NOT a reference book. From the introduction, it is clear it was not designed as such. It cannot replace any of the standard, much loved reference volumes (Strunk, Fowler, etc.). It simply and amusingly makes a few choice comments about the misuse of English punctuation (and, yes, there are a few digressions into grammar and vocabulary abuse, too).
It's full of great examples for teachers, writers, editors, etc. In my job, I'll certainly be using many of the author's points to illustrate punctuation rules. Highly recommended for pedants (provided they have a sense of humour) everywhere.
on 8 March 2005
It is critical for anyone who picks up Truss' book to remember that this is a book about grammar. If you write text messages or emails that look like the contents of Alphabetti Spaghetti, then this book will most likely seem a pedantic rant. The truth is, of course, that it is. Truss' point is that grammar is essential to language; she worries that as we write more and more, we're communicating less and less. Grammar lends words meaning, order, and emotion, something she demonstrates par excellance. Applications of grammar are illustrated and taught in a light-hearted but thorough way, leaving one entertained and informed. I dare say the book will actually goad some into reviving their grammar.
This book is not an apologetic, which some reviewers criticise it for not being! It is very much a book connected to people. Truss explains her own personal crusade for grammar. The fundamental argument is that, critically, without grammar people will be unable to connect to other people in a comprehensible way. 'Eats, Shoots and Leaves' is a plea, a call to arms to the English-speaking peoples to understand they have a language which can be enhanced, manipulated and nuanced in unique ways with the proper application of grammar.