The danger of Eats Shoots and Leaves
Eats Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation has me chuckling and quaking in my sandals at the same time. Lynne Truss’ bestselling book is downright debilitating.
Do I dare write a sentence without checking whether ‘Lynne Truss’ book’ should be Truss’ or Truss’s? According to Ms Truss, who in turn is quoting Fowler’s Modern English Usage, modern convention is to attach the s following the apostrophe – with a few exceptions, of course!
The realization that I am an outcast due to my ignorance of correct punctuation has been swift and depressing. Yet it is not just my poor knowledge of grammar that is making me blush. Ms Truss recounts a story of when she was in the 8th grade and scoffed at an American penpal for not knowing the word desultory. I’m 33 and I still had to look it up. Clearly, my vocabulary is as stunted as my punctuation. (For those of you who are interested, desultory means ‘going from one subject to another, especially in a half-hearted way’ or ‘disconnected; unmethodical; superficial’).
It is not only reading Eat Shoots & Leaves that is causing me concern re: my literary capabilities. Presently, I am surrounded each day by Auditory-Verbal therapists. These strange creatures have a disconcerting grasp of English grammar; well, disconcerting to those of us whose grammatical foundations are wobbly, to say the least. I sat yesterday, huffing every so often, while two auditory-verbal therapists (AVTs) had a conversation about the emergence of irregular past tense in children and irregular plurals. Due to my three month crash course in all things AVT, I at least know that fell and rode are irregular plurals. However, (and I’m not sure I can start a sentence with however – but I shall!), when these crazy women start discussing the uncontractible copula I think it is time for me to leave. Andrew is right. The uncontractible copula sounds dodgy. He said it sounds like a penis that cannot be put away. I think he has a point.
Lastly, Eat Shoots & Leaves, has left me questioning whether I am ‘but obsessed’. Please note it is not a typo. I did mean ‘but’. Ever since I’ve been reading Lynne’s book, when I write a blog post I find myself searching for a word other than ‘but’. I seem to want to employ this conjunction in every second sentence. I am obviously, conjunctively challenged! What’s more, dashes and ellipses are both marks of choice, perhaps because the dash will get you out of grammatical gaol as it can never be wrong – ooh, magical dash.
My moaning re: my grammatical shortcomings aside, see the above as homage to Lynne Truss’s book (yes, with the added ‘s). Just as a colleague this week complimented me on my ability to make ‘databases – boring horrible things that they are – funny’, I applaud Lynne on her hilarious commentary on the state of modern grammar. If my school teachers had even a smidge of Lynne’s wit, and grammar was in the curriculum of the day – which is wasn’t – I may not look as perplexed when my colleagues start banging on about the acquisition of pronouns and verb tense in hearing impaired children. It’s a miracle that hearing children acquire irregular plurals and the uncontractible copula let alone those who are deaf.
My only criticism of Eat Shoots & Leaves is that the quote to demonstrate the use of the exclamation for added drama is: “That’s not the Northern Lights, that’s Manderley!” Surely, Alec Guinness’s memorable delivery of the line “That’s no moon, that’s a space station!” warranted the exclamation mark drama quote category… but then each to his own.