Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation
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The spirited and scholarly #1 New York Times bestseller combines boisterous history with grammar how-to’s to show how important punctuation is in our world—period.
In Eats, Shoots & Leaves, former editor Lynne Truss, gravely concerned about our current grammatical state, boldly defends proper punctuation. She proclaims, in her delightfully urbane, witty, and very English way, that it is time to look at our commas and semicolons and see them as the wonderful and necessary things they are. Using examples from literature, history, neighborhood signage, and her own imagination, Truss shows how meaning is shaped by commas and apostrophes, and the hilarious consequences of punctuation gone awry.
Featuring a foreword by Frank McCourt, and interspersed with a lively history of punctuation from the invention of the question mark in the time of Charlemagne to George Orwell shunning the semicolon, Eats, Shoots & Leaves makes a powerful case for the preservation of proper punctuation.
• 72 • That’ll Do, Comma southern Italy for the guidance of trainee scribes, included punctuation in his Institutiones Divinarum et Saecularium Litterarum, recommending “clear pausing in well-regulated delivery”. I do hope Harold Pinter knows about all this, by the way; who would have thought the pause had such a long and significant history? Most of the marks used by those earnest scribes look bizarre to us now, of course: the positura, a mark like a number 7, which indicated the end of a
still have no idea whether sticklers are uniting in the UK, but I somehow doubt it, despite the staggering sales. Grammatical sticklers are the worst people for finding common cause because it is in their nature (obviously) to pick holes in everyone, even their best friends. Honestly, what an annoying bunch of people. One supporter of Eats, Shoots & Leaves wrote a 1,400-word column in The Times of London explaining (with glorious self-importance) that while his admiration for my purpose was
Books were now for reading and understanding, not intoning. Moving your lips was becoming a no-no. Within the seventy years it took for Aldus Manutius the Elder to be replaced by Aldus Manutius the Younger, things changed so drastically that in 1566 Aldus Manutius the Younger was able to state that the main object of punctuation was the clarification of syntax. Forget all that stuff about the spiritual value to the reader of working out the meaning for himself; forget as well the humility of
continual peril of being disowned by our exasperated families. I know precisely when my own damned stickler personality started to get the better of me. In the autumn of 2002, I was making a series of programmes about punctuation for Radio 4 called Cutting a Dash. My producer invited John Richards of the Apostrophe Protection Society to come and talk to us. At that time, I was quite tickled by the idea of an Apostrophe Protection Society, on whose website could be found photographic examples of
stop (the rest will come later), they have not always been there. The initial letter of a sentence was first capitalised in the 13th century, but the rule was not consistently applied until the 16th. • 22 • Introduction – The Seventh Sense In manuscripts of the 4th to 7th centuries, the first letter of the page was decorated, regardless of whether it was the start of a sentence – and indeed, while we are on the subject of decorated letters, who can forget the scene in Not the Nine O’Clock