Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation

Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation

by Lynne Truss
Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation

Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation

by Lynne Truss


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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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781592402038
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 04/11/2006
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 240
Sales rank: 86,131
Product dimensions: 5.04(w) x 7.20(h) x 0.64(d)
Age Range: 18 - 14 Years

About the Author

About The Author
Lynne Truss is a writer and journalist who started out as a literary editor with a blue pencil and then got sidetracked. The author of three novels and numerous radio comedy dramas, she spent six years as the television critic of The Times of London, followed by four (rather peculiar) years as a sports columnist for the same newspaper. She won Columnist of the Year for her work for Women’s Journal. Lynne Truss also hosted Cutting a Dash, a popular BBC Radio 4 series about punctuation. She now reviews books for the Sunday Times of London and is a familiar voice on BBC Radio 4. She lives in Brighton, England.

Read an Excerpt

Introduction – The Seventh Sense

Excerpted from "Eats, Shoots & Leaves"
by .
Copyright © 2006 Lynne Truss.
Excerpted by permission of Penguin Publishing Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Eats Shoots & LeavesForeword by Frank McCourt
Publisher's Note

Introduction—The Seventh Sense
The Tractable Apostrophe
That'll Do, Comma
Airs and Graces
Cutting a Dash
A Little Used Punctuation Mark
Merely Conventional Signs


What People are Saying About This

James Lipton

At long last, a worthy tribute to punctuation’s stepchildren: the neglected semicolon, the enigmatic ellipsis and the mad dash. Punc-rock on!
—(James Lipton, author of An Exaltation of Larks and writer and host of Inside the Actors Studio)

Frank McCourt

Sticklers unite!
What people are saying about Eats, Shoots & Leaves

If Lynne Truss were Roman Catholic I’d nominate her for sainthood. As it is, thousands of English teachers from Maine to Maui will be calling down blessings on her merry, learned head. (author of Angela’s Ashes)

From the Publisher

Eats, Shoots & Leaves “makes correct usage so cool that you have to admire Ms. Truss.”
—Janet Maslin, The New York Times

“Witty, smart, passionate.”
—Los Angeles Times Book Review, Best Books Of 2004: Nonfiction

“This book changed my life in small, perfect ways like learning how to make better coffee or fold an omelet. It’s the perfect gift for anyone who cares about grammar and a gentle introduction for those who don’t care enough.”
The Boston Sunday Globe

Richard Lederer

There is a multitude of us riding this planet for whom apostrophe catastrophes, quotation bloatation, mad dashes, and other comma-tose errors squeak like chalk across the blackboard of our sensibilities. At last we who are punctilious about punctuation have a manifesto, and it is titled Eats, Shoots & Leaves.
—(Richard Lederer, author of A Man of My Words and Anguished English)


A Message from the Author

At first glance, punctuation looks like a pretty small subject, I admit. When I first started to tell people I was writing a funny book about it, the reaction was generally the same: a puzzled frown, a pat on the shoulder, and the caring question, "You know this is commercial suicide?"

What is there to say about punctuation, after all (they said)? It is merely a set of conventional printers' marks which notate the written word. These marks are small; nobody under the age of thirty knows how to use them anymore; many sensible people are advocating that we drop them altogether. Worst of all, punctuation is so old-fashioned! If you go around publicly defending the apostrophe, for Pete's sake (they continued, their voices rising), don't you realize how uncool you'll be?

Whether I was wise to ignore these warnings only time will truly tell. I went ahead and wrote my book on punctuation anyway -- and, blimey! In the UK alone it has sold half a million copies in three months! Why? Well, I have three theories. First, punctuation is self-evidently in peril (look around and you will find cards printed with SEASONS GREETING'S, signs to MENS ROOM, films called TWO WEEKS NOTICE) -- and it turns out that there are millions of sensitive (older) people who feel actual pain when they are forced to swallow such illiterate stuff. Second, bad teaching of grammar has left a generation of clever young people clueless about how to use the written word correctly -- so they turn to Eats, Shoots & Leaves for painless instruction. Third, buyers think it is actually about pandas and are too embarrassed to take it back when they realize their mistake.

There have been many grammatical books about punctuation before, of course. The difference with Eats, Shoots & Leaves is that it's a mixture of essay, polemic, history and grammar, with the main emphasis on stories about James Thurber and Harold Ross at The New Yorker threatening each other with ash-trays over the second comma in "Red, white, and blue." Punctuation turns out to be a far from anodyne subject. Nicholson Baker eulogizes the "commash" (comma with a dash); George Orwell loathes the semicolon; Gertrude Stein abominates every punctuation mark you can think of. And people have died because of punctuation, it turns out. In 1916, the Irish insurrectionist Sir Roger Casement was "hanged on a comma" (the punctuation of the 1351 Act of Treason being decisive in his death sentence). Meanwhile, at the more trivial end of things, a member of a New England reading group once delightfully misplaced Shakespeare's punctuation so that King Duncan, in Macbeth, listened to the words of the wounded soldier in Act One and then announced with relish, "Go get him, surgeons!" (It's supposed to be "Go, get him surgeons.")

Does punctuation matter? I think so. And I think its demise is just the most obvious manifestation of a growing -- and overwhelmingly depressing -- disrespect for precision in language. By a tragic coincidence, understanding of the traditional techniques of the written word has plummeted just at the point when -- with the Internet, email, and text messaging -- people are writing more than ever before. Of course there are good arguments for abandoning old printers' marks in this context. But at the same time as I reluctantly acknowledge that language must move on, I'm so glad that it occurred to me to look at punctuation and celebrate it before it goes. It is a wonderful system, you see. It is elegant and simple; both an art and a science. Its purpose is to "tango the reader into the pauses, inflections, continuities and connections that the spoken line would convey."

There is a panda on the cover because of the fine panda joke that gave rise to the title, yet perhaps there was more than serendipity in the way our black-and-white friend reminds us that punctuation is a truly endangered species. Sometimes I feel like a lone explorer who has discovered Venice just on the point of it sinking into the lagoon, and is frantically taking pictures of it from every angle, saying, "But it's so beautiful! Look at the way the water reflects on that canal wall! The domes! The Campanile! The gondolas! Yes, Venice is old-fashioned (and shaped like a comma, as it happens), but what a shame it all has to go this way!" --Lynne Truss

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