Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation
By Lynne Truss
Published by Gotham Books
240 pages; $17.50
I’ve been wanting a copy of this book ever since I read about it in a British newspaper, oh, around Christmas. Thought about spending the $25 or so that it would cost me to buy it via UK Amazon and decided to be patient and wait for it to be published in the US – and here it is! And I didn’t have even have to buy my own copy because Burt got it for a present, autographed by the author, even, when she was reading at Cody’s in Berkeley.
This is a lovely little book, aimed dead-on at absurdly fussy writers like me and my cohorts at Catchword. It contains many pages of ranting and hilarious invective aimed at people who cannot tell the difference between “its” and “it’s”, which is my most-hated grammar mistake (when I was teaching at Berkeley I regularly threatened to fail my students should they confuse the two). Truss gives the history and evolution of rules for using apostrophes, commas, dashes, hyphens, colon, semi-colons (my favorite), and both parentheses and brackets. She also gives many examples of right and wrong usage, the latter of which will gently amuse you or drive you to screaming rage, depending on who you are.
I still disagree with some of the rules that seem arbitrary – for example, that one should use apostrophes when pluralizing letters and words: F’s, R’s, do’s don’t’s. It just looks weird to me, and if you don’t use an apostrophe with dates, like “1980s”, why should you use one with letters? Oh well. As Truss points out, usage changes over time and what was once commonplace yesterday is rare today (or to-day, as they used to write). But she makes a passionate case for using, and LEARNING, correct punctuation, so that we all may communicate more clearly and more pleasingly. Buy it for yourself as a reference, for your friends to amuse and instruct them, or for the poor students who received Fs in my classes so they can finally get it right.