Tuesday, May 18, 2004

Eats, Shoots & Leaves

That is the title of the book on punctuation that I just finished reading.  I have to say that this book is an astonishingly good book about a subject that most people these days seem to want to avoid (abolish?): punctuation.

Lynne Truss wrote this book for people like me; I see the spelling, grammar, and punctuation errors on signs, in books, in blog posts (including my own), and especially in e-mails.  One note that I have to make is that this book is a British book, so some of the punctuation rules and guidelines within it are contradictory to what I learned in American schools; a perfect example is my use of commas in the sentence prior to this one: the book indicates that it is not to necessaily put the additional comma before the word "and".

I would love to send many of the people from whom I receive e-mails a copy of this book -- some of the stuff I get is truly ugly.  For those of you that use Microsoft Outlook, here's my PSA: You can use Microsoft Word as your e-mail editor!  By using Word, Outlook provides you with both the active spell check and grammar checking functions; Word certainly does not necesarily provide you with the absolute best grammar and punctuation checking, but it certainly prevents misspellings, missed periods and question marks, missed capitalization, and missed full stops in sentences.  As a side note to everyone sending e-mails for business: stop putting emoticons ;) and stupid abbreviations (i.e., GR8) in your e-mails; it is very much not ok!

You are probably wondering why you should read a book on punctuation.  This book is written in a much more entertaining way than other books on grammar and punctuation.  As opposed to many other style guides that are designed for reference, Eats, Shoots & Leaves (it's hard for me to leave out that second comma) was written as a book that can be read cover-to-cover and educate as well as the dryly written textbook-style styleguides.  Furthermore, the book is witty and funny with plenty of relevant real-world examples of how punctuation is ridculously mis-used.  Take the origin of the title of the book:

A panda walks into a cafe.   He orders a sandwich, eats it, then draws a gun and fires two shots into the air.

"Why?" asks the confused waiter, as the panda makes towards the exit.  The panda produces a badly puncuated wildlife manual and tosses it over his shoulder.

"I'm a panda," he says, at the door.  "Look it up."

The waiter turns to the relevant entry and, sure enough, finds an explanation.

"Panda.  Large black-and-white bear-like mammal, native to China.  Eats, shoots and leaves."

Get pissed off and mad about punctuation!  Remove those damn emoticons and stupid abbreviations from your e-mails!  Use a semicolon in an e-mail right after you finish reading the chapter on how to use it; chances are people won't notice it's there, but people like me notice when it's not (remeber that sometimes the act of ommission is potentially more dangerous than that of commission).

". . . just remember that ignorance of punctuation can have rather large practical reprecussions in the real world."

Visit the book's website for more real world examples of piss-pour punctuation and other useful information.


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