‘Eats, Shoots, and Leaves’ is grammar lover’s bible

For fanatics of the world of punctuation, Lynne Truss has now become the patron saint of proper English, creating somewhat of a biblical text for the masses to follow.

“Eats, Shoots and & Leaves” takes its title from a punctuation joke. A panda walks into a café, has a sandwich, pulls out a gun, shoots into the air and then leaves. As the panda walks towards the door to leave, a waiter asks the panda why it did that.

The panda tosses him a badly punctuated wildlife manual and says, “I’m a panda. Look it up.” He does and finds: “Panda: Large black and white bear like mammal, native to China. Eats, shoots and leaves.”

Those who get the joke are the ones in the congregation of Truss.

Truss, a writer and journalist for six years, started out as a literary editor and now writes for The London Times. She won Columnist of the Year for her work for Women’s Journal and her experience shines brightly in this book.

Truss succeeds at her goal of writing a book designed for those “who love punctuation and don’t like to see it mucked about with” by giving overviews of the most commonly misused marks in punctuation.

Truss encouraged people with their own personal punctuation horror stories to write letters demonstrating the ignorance of the British people. These letters helped to comprise “The Tractable Apostrophe” chapter, which introduced a number of incorrect uses of the punctuation mark such as, “Mens toilets,” “Britains biggest junction,” and “Citizens Advice Bureau.”

Being the true grammar stickler that she is, Truss not only admits her love for punctuation by admitting that she changes incorrect signs while walking down the street (“Two Weeks Notice” and “Come inside for CD’s, Video’s, DVD’s and Book’s) but gives readers insight on the history of punctuation.

She says that punctuation is a product of the age of printing and that it was a Venetian printer Aldus Manutius (1450-1515) who started to standardize punctuation practices. 

Before Manutius, the earliest known punctuation was a three-part system of dramatic notation credited to Aristophanes of Byzantium around 200 BC.

Typical grammar books dictate rules and regulations but Truss’s love and passion not only make this an informative read but also an entertaining and well-written one.

Truss proclaims, as a lover of the apostrophe, that she will not stand and let it be abolished because it “has for centuries graced our words and illuminated our meaning.” Everyone’s favorite mark, the comma, has two purposes in this life: to illuminate the grammar in the sentence and to point up literary qualities as rhythm, direction, pitch, tone and flow.

Truss has only one rule: don’t use commas like a stupid person.

Humorous and witty, Truss’s anger is released when reading a piece of writing that was at the level of Pip from “Great Expectations.”

A 14-year-old Truss expressed this very anger when her American pen pal, Kerry-Anne sent a letter coated with “bubbles,” over lowercased “i’s” and huge handwriting.

Infuriated, Truss responded with an attack of intellectual words, French and a few semicolons to send the American on her way.

When an artist sees a beautiful executed painting, he views this as art. When Truss sees colons and semicolons waltzing together, she sees the same.

The fate of the semicolon is an endangered species in print and according to Truss “it is essential to our craft.”

In her comical manner, she stresses how the semicolon gives a sentence a sort of bounce, keeping it up for hours.

Truss admits that she may have a bit of an obsession with punctuation but not to the point of madness, such as George Bernard Shaw. Shaw, a playwright, wanted to reform the English language during World War II and wrote a letter to The London Times suggesting that the second “b” in the word “bomb” “was superfluous and 25 percent of a minute” was wasted every time it was written.

Truss has a tendency of getting chatty (“I love the history of this, don’t you? Well, I think so -“), and her book is flourished with British slang that leave American readers confused. This doesn’t dilute the pleasurable experience that this book presents.

Optimism and hope finalizes the book as Truss encourages her followers to continue the fight for proper English as language moves on (she doesn’t feel sorry for those Egyptian hieroglyph artists) and to continue to practice correct usage of punctuation.

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