Saturday, 5 January 2013

Eats, Shoots and Leaves

Eats, Shoots and Leaves
Lynne Truss
London, Profile Books, 2003, 209p

Yesterday morning, I woke to find an angry Facebook post from friend and fellow blogger, The Red Headed Woman, about an example of abuse of the English language on the radio:
Man on radio claiming he went to Oxford so knows about the "most brightest"... most bright/brightest. Not that smart are you?
Just hours later, another blogger and my marvellous librarian friend, @Lady_PGD tweeted:
'pilkunnussija' (noun): Finnish: A person with exceptional and unnecessary attention to detail. Translates literally as 'comma-fucker'
I rather enjoyed finding these glorious examples of how the Internet can be put to good use, as I have just read Lynne Truss' famous attack on poor grammar and punctuation - Eats, Shoots and Leaves. A witty, well-researched rant against all those signs you have seen advertising "book's for sale". Chapter by chapter, Truss outlines the history of our favourite punctuation symbols, and informs the reader of the rules and regulations by which we must abide. 

I found the historical information particularly interesting - apparently, the earliest known use of punctuation is credited to a librarian in around 200 BC (yay us!). On reflection, I think I tend to abide by Victorian grammatical rules (in particular, overuse of the comma), as most of what I read is Victorian. 

Punctuation, despite changing throughout history, has a significant influence on how we interpret what we read; for example, extracts from the Bible can be read many different ways, if one looks at where the commas and full stops could be placed. Truss expresses concern over the impact of the Internet on punctuation and grammar, as we see these symbols used more often as emoticons than sentence breaks.

Whilst reading this book, I found myself searching for mistakes in Truss' text. I now find myself reading and re-reading this post, in fear of looking like a fool. I highly recommend Eats, Shoots and Leaves; whether you are a confident grammatician looking to confirm what you already know, or a novice in search of clear definitions and examples. Let's end with my favourite:
A woman, without her man, is nothing.
A woman: without her, man is nothing.

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