The danger of Eats Shoots and Leaves


Eats Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation by Lynne Truss

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.


Posted on December 23, 2011, in Waffle and Nonsense and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. I have only read the pared down, which is to say the one with little text and lots of cartoons to illustrate the point, version of Eats, Shoots etc. I get irritated by misplaced apostrophes, which may mean I have unfortunate issues of my own. I have read articles by Truss and thought she was a bit pompous. That discouraged me from reading her book, but you make it sound fun. Maybe I shall give it a go after all.

    There should be a new photo challenge later. You can dissect the word for its grammatical parts.

  2. There is an orchid registered by the Royal Horticultural Society with a grex name of Bees’ Knees.

    This has annoyed me for years because…..
    It didn’t look right
    Orchid growers put the apostrophe in a different place or left it out on plant tags or show entry forms
    Searching the RHS Database for the children of Bees’ Knees returns nil results. Bees’ knees has lots of children including one called Dangerous.

    So, is Bees’ Knees correct or should it be Bee’s Knees?

    • Ah well I think it depends on how whether the bee is singular or plural. If it’s one little bee, then bee’s knees is surely correct. (Do you like that ‘surely’? I’m just so confident about these things now!) But if it’s many bees what is a girl to do? My understanding is the apostrophe after the s is still correct but considered old fashioned. So Lynne Truss’ book is now Lynne Truss’s book. Unless it’s a name from the ancient world, in which case the apostrophe stays after the s e.g. Archimedes’ waffle or Jesus’ cup. Then if the name ends in ‘es’ sound like Bridges apparently the apostrophe goes after the s. Bridges’ madness. I intend to continue sticking it after the s – old fashioned or not – it’s just a bloody sight easier! Sorry Dad. I still don’t have an answer for you on the bee question as I have no idea whether bees knees refers to one bee or many!

  1. Pingback: Note 323 – Eight writing books as a source of information « My writing challenge

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: