Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Eats, Shoots and Leaves (Lynne Truss)

Eats, Shoots and Leaves
Lynne Truss
Gotham Books
Nonfiction, Grammar
**** (Good)

DESCRIPTION: As most any modern grammarian will tell you, our language is in a state of distress, particularly regarding its punctuation. We see signs admonishing No Dog's, without telling us what quality or possession of the dog is forbidden. A simple lack of a comma creates cannibalism - "Let's eat Grandpa!" - instead of inclusion - "Let's eat, Grandpa!". Admitted grammar nitpicker Lynne Truss uses humor and numerous examples to explain the origins, history, and sometimes-conflicting rules of punctuation, and why they're still necessary for clear communication.

REVIEW: There are those today - too many - who regard grammar as obsolete, and who would relegate most punctuation to history's trash bin. Historically, authors have either overused or utterly eschewed various marks, from common commas to spurious semicolons. Further, English itself has become divided by the Atlantic, with different conventions evolving in Britain and America, further confused by cross-contamination enabled by the internet. And then there's just plain sloppy education that assumes, as with general grammar, that cultural osmosis will take care of the pesky "learning" part of language. What's a conscientious writer to do, when even grammar experts can't agree whether punctuation is coming or going or if was ever needed at all? What it all boils down to is clear and effective communication, which cannot happen without some manner of agreed-upon rules, let alone without punctuation. It might seem fairly straightforward, but as Truss digs deeper she finds (part of) the roots of punctuation confusion reaching back to the marks' origins. She does her best to cut through the confusion as she presents rules, or at least strong suggestions, for their use. Though British, she notes (when possible) how American conventions differ, doing her best to point out the logic (or lack thereof) behind the rules. Once in a while, she drifts off on tangents and gets a little to clever for her own good. Overall, though, it's a decent, eminently readable guide for those who want to do better by our oft-maligned language's most useful annotations.

You Might Also Enjoy:
Just My Type (Simon Garfield) - My Review
Who's... (Oops) Whose Grammar Book is This, Anyway? (C. Edward Good) - My Review
The Elements of Style (William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White) - My Review

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