[BOOK REVIEW]Rejoice! Our champion has emergedFor those of you who may not yet have heard of this little volume, filled with interesting insights and facts and humor that sometimes comes as close to risque as a propah English gentlewoman will allow herself to wander: You have a treat in store.
And the best thing about it? The subject is, of all things, punctuation.
Lynne Truss is an unabashed nit-picker, and I empathize completely with her when I see atrocities like “Thank’s for the memory” inflicted on the English language. She describes the book as “the zero-tolerance approach to punctuation” ― although, come to think of it, she omitted the hyphen on the dust jacket. Could I be more nitpicky than the nit-picker?
Well, there is a difference of opinion on how far to go in hyphenating such usages, but it still troubles me.
What does not trouble me in the least is Ms. Truss’s irate reaction to misused punctuation: her desire to carry around vials of colored paint and markers to either remove thrown-in punctuation or add missing marks. As she notes, punctuation is a convention that helps readers understand the written English word in the same way that pauses and inflections help a listener understand the spoken word.
She throws in some fascinating historical notes on the development of punctuation in Western European languages and, despite her ardor, does concede willingly that punctuation is still evolving. She is not always happy about the direction in which it is evolving, but I share that unhappiness with her.
We do part company somewhat on the issue of e-mail. I agree with her completely that the Internet has reduced correspondence from writing ― real writing ― to merely “sending.” Most people heave a sigh of relief when they open a blank e-mail form, because they think they can forget about their sixth-grade English teacher’s exhortations.
She also has a wonderful passage about emoticons, or smileys, which she calls “the greatest (or most desperate, depending on how you look at it) advance in punctuation since the question mark in the reign of Charlemagne.”
I have only one real criticism of her book, which is written for Her Britannic Majesty’s loyal subjects. She dismisses some American usage, most strongly in noting the “American grammarians insisting that, if a sentence ends with a phrase in inverted commas, all the terminal punctuation for the sentence must come tidily inside the speech marks, even when this doesn’t seem to make sense.” Please, it’s only commas and periods whose usage doesn’t seem to make sense sometimes. Question marks, exclamation points ― and even emoticons, to the extent that the latter follow any rules ― are used identically on both sides of the Atlantic.
And incidentally, any punctuation errors in this review are the fault of another editor. :-)
Eats, Shoot & Leaves
By Lynne Truss
Gotham Books, New York
Cover price $17.50
by John Hoog