Eats, Shoots & Leaves, by Lynne Truss

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Eats, Shoots & Leaves, by Lynne Truss

Post by Archived Topic » Fri Nov 05, 2004 2:56 am

As an enthusiast for sumpsimus, it seems to me that this article about Lynne Truss's new book concerning the decline of competence in English punctuation which I found at http://www.brooksbulletin.com/news/ente ... emid=22378 is worth reproducing here:

Forces of 'barbaric illiteracy' too strong
New book serves as witty eulogy for punctuation

Monday, April 19, 2004 Posted: 1831 GMT

BRIGHTON, England (AP) -- Lynne Truss fears the English language could be in its death throes.

Proper, written English, that is -- the kind with correctly placed apostrophes, elegantly positioned semicolons, commas in all the right places and in none of the wrong ones. It's being shoved aside, she thinks, by an electronic onslaught of uncapitalized, unpunctuated, ill-thought-out Internet verbiage.

Truss, a longtime writer and editor, is sure that trying to halt the decline would be hopeless, but she wants her new book, "Eats, Shoots & Leaves" to at least serve as a warm and funny eulogy to a little-heralded but crucial piece of the language: punctuation.

Despite tackling a subject that's so dry that it's put generations of schoolchildren to sleep, the book has won critics' praise for its humor and readability and it's been a surprise hit in Britain, selling more than half a million copies. Truss also received the book of the year prize at the recent British Book Awards ceremonies -- an honor bestowed by a panel of 400 publishers, wholesalers and booksellers, and the public.

"Eats, Shoots & Leaves," whose title comes from a corny punctuation joke about a panda in a bar, is a lighthearted, affectionate tribute to the system of jots, dots and dashes that make written language intelligible.

"Sticklers unite," Truss urges in the book's introduction. "You have nothing to lose but your sense of proportion, and arguably you didn't have a lot of that to begin with."

Relaxing in a sleek hotel lobby in her hometown of Brighton, on England's south coast, Truss, 48, seems to relish the part of linguistic nit-picker. She has bobbed blond hair and a warm smile, and displays a sharp, self-deprecating wit.

She insists she's more surprised than anyone by the book's success.

Truss -- so modest she apologizes (needlessly) for being a poor interview subject -- says she was well into writing last year before she felt sure the topic was substantial enough for a book.

_Evidence for punctuation's demise_

She eventually concluded proper usage of punctuation was coming to a cataclysmic end, making this exactly the right time to honor it.

"It's just a wonderful moment to appreciate it before it goes, like going to see Venice before it sinks," she said. "I sort of feel, well, what a great system and how beautiful and elegant it is, and to have it just dropped and cast aside when there's nothing being offered in its place just seems quite barbaric."

She blames the decline on the failure of schools to teach the basic rules, and on the explosion of communication technologies that have allowed punctuation ignoramuses everywhere to deluge others with their poorly organized thoughts.

"People who don't know their apostrophe from their elbow are positively invited to disseminate their writings to anyone on the planet stupid enough to double-click and scroll," she writes.

In the always hurrying modern world, Truss says, few slow down enough to take care over details that used to be the sign of a thoughtful writer.

She sees evidence for punctuation's demise everywhere. Her book is filled with examples -- some funny, some just plain atrocious -- of punctuation abused, ignored and misplaced.

"I saw a sign for 'Book's' with an apostrophe in it and something deep inside me snapped," she writes. "Despair was the initial impetus for this book."

She's willing to forgive the greengrocers who advertise "apple's" and "orange,s" but saves particular venom for those publishing on a grander scale and those who should know better.

_Apostrophe abuse_

Truss lambasts Britain's National Union of Teachers for a letter in which it refers to "childrens' education," the British Broadcasting Corp. for promising "nouns and apostrophe's" in a grammar lesson on its Web site and the government for a passport application form that asked for the full name of "the person who's details are given in Section 02." All three apostrophes are misused.

She's also furious about the apostrophe Warner Bros. omitted from the title of the Sandra Bullock-Hugh Grant comedy "Two Weeks Notice," (make that "Two Weeks' Notice," insists Truss), saying anyone who spends big money on a promotional campaign can afford a proofreader.

"How much more abuse must the apostrophe endure?" she pleads in the book.

Some examples amuse rather than exasperate.

Truss takes a road sign that warns "Children Drive Slowly" as a declarative sentence describing young drivers' lack of speed, and notes that the sign "No Dogs Please" is flat-out wrong.

"Many dogs do please, as a matter of fact; they rather make a point of it," she writes.

Truss' book has clearly hit a nerve among readers fretful over what she sees as a wider decline in literacy. The book, released in the United States April 13, has been at the top of British best-seller lists since December and has sold a massive 580,000 copies here.

Language-loving critics have raved about it.

The Daily Telegraph newspaper called it "witty, clear-headed and altogether enchanting. ... It makes you love punctuation; you want to conserve what is still left and perhaps even call for more of it."

Impressive stuff for a book whose initial success made its author more nervous than excited.

_Great reviews_

Truss, whose idea for the volume came from a BBC radio series she did on punctuation, "Cutting a Dash," says she originally thought it would be the sort of book people bought nitpicking relatives for Christmas. And even after they did so in enormous numbers, she fretted that all the copies were meant for a few famous sticklers who would return the extras to stores on December 26.

They didn't.

"I think that was when I relaxed, sort of about mid-January, when we realized that people were still buying it," she said.

The book's blockbuster success also surprised editors at Profile Books, the small company that published it.

Kate Griffin, of Profile, said she groaned when managing director Andrew Franklin first told her they would be releasing a book on punctuation.

"When he said it would be fun, I didn't understand. But when I read her first chapter, I thought it was marvelous," Griffin recalled.

Great reviews just before the book's November release drove advance sales and Profile immediately began boosting its initial print run of 15,000 copies, she said.

Truss spent most of her career as an editor and journalist, writing three comic novels on the side that sold poorly. She expected "Eats, Shoots & Leaves" to be a modest seller, too, and says she's been stunned by the way it's caught on.

Still, she says, there's little chance it will make a difference.

"The forces toward barbaric illiteracy, I dare say, are much too strong ... for a few people," she sighs. "I don't think we're going to stop the rot."

Submitted by Erik Kowal ( - England)
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Eats, Shoots & Leaves, by Lynne Truss

Post by Archived Reply » Fri Nov 05, 2004 3:10 am

Erik, this book sounds WONDERFUL! I just did a quick search on amazon.com and found it for $12.25. I was completely sold when I read the excerpt and discovered that the author recommends that anyone putting an apostrophe in a possessive "its" (as in "the dog chewed it's bone") should be struck by lightning and chopped to bits! Since I am also a "stickler" for puctuation, this book sounds like a "must-have" for me. Thanks, Erik, for letting us know about it.
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Post by Archived Reply » Fri Nov 05, 2004 3:25 am

Maybe we should try to place a bulk order. Sounds great. Thanks for bringing it to my attention, Erik.

Lois, April 21
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Post by Archived Reply » Fri Nov 05, 2004 3:39 am

"Eats, Shoots & Leaves," whose title comes from a corny punctuation joke about a panda in a bar, ..." >> .. or if you are in Australia it is a wombat in a pub who "Eats roots and leaves." .. Wombat being a common Aussie nic-name for that reason ..
WoZ of Aus. 22/04/04
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Post by Archived Reply » Fri Nov 05, 2004 3:53 am

Fo'c's'l's a word greengrocers rarely spell correctly. But they DO know their onions.
Reply from Edwin Ashworth (Oldham - England)
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Post by Archived Reply » Fri Nov 05, 2004 4:08 am

Yes, but they spell it onion's.
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Post by Archived Reply » Fri Nov 05, 2004 4:22 am

The problem is probably a mirbane-induced comma.
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Post by Archived Reply » Fri Nov 05, 2004 4:37 am

That must explain why most of the ones I have ever known have had such an unsteady gait, as though they had cramps in their feet. They sell tomatoes, but walk on comma toes.
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Post by Archived Reply » Fri Nov 05, 2004 4:51 am

But a mirbane-gait is not as dangerous as a water-gait. Even if they do end up with bunion's.
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Post by Archived Reply » Fri Nov 05, 2004 5:05 am

I hear those can make you cry.
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Post by Archived Reply » Fri Nov 05, 2004 5:20 am

Yes, you're better off leaving eating shoots.
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Post by Archived Reply » Fri Nov 05, 2004 5:34 am

Is that the usual advice you give to everyone who's going back to live with their mother? "Here, nibble on this broccoli spear... It'll make you feel better in no time!"
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Post by Archived Reply » Fri Nov 05, 2004 5:49 am

It's a better exit strategy than some I could mention.
Have you heard the accusations of plagiarism levelled at Ms Truss? That her book is merely a rewriting of Copland's "Fanfare for the Comma Man"?
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Post by Archived Reply » Fri Nov 05, 2004 6:03 am

You are perhaps suggesting that she would be more appropriately called Miss Trust?
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Post by Archived Reply » Fri Nov 05, 2004 6:17 am

Don't tell me Viola works for her too.
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