Eats, Shoots and Leaves by Lynne Truss: Book Review

I’m not a stickler nor am I a grammar geek, but I loved this funny, witty, entertaining and informative book on the history, misuse and yes, the importance of English grammar. My mother always said that a good cook was someone “die en drol lekker zou kunne maken”, which roughly translates as “someone who could make a turd taste good.”

Well, that’s exactly what Lynne Truss does in Eats, Shoots and Leaves. A dry topic in anyone else’s hands becomes an entertaining, learning experience thanks to her wry sense of humour and expert knowledge of the English language.

But Truss’s outrage at the decline and misuse of English grammar isn’t simply a stickler’s whine, she uses example after entertaining example, of the confusion that ensues when we don’t understand how and where to place commas, apostrophes, colons, semi-colons etc…

The title, “Eats, Shoots and Leaves” is a joke about how the misplaced use of a simple comma can completely change the meaning of a sentence. Pandas, who “eat shoots and leaves” is completely different from the panda who walked into the bar, “eats, shoots and leaves”. The latter clearly is a more wild west version of the gentle panda bear than the former.

I write quite a bit and I only occasionally reach back over the (decades) to remember the finer points of early grammar classes.  Then, through the haze of these dodgy memories, I think to myself, “Sure, the comma should go right here and this apostrophe will come after. Or was it before?” But one thing I learned in Writing 101, or Writing for Dummies during my first year of university – when I discovered that I couldn’t write – was that clear prose signals clear thinking. That much I know.

The idiosyncratic system of black marks and notations that we have come to know and love as Grammar,  came into being as a result of the development of printing technology. As the printing press developed, conventions for the clear understanding of the written word were required. Now that we’re in the midst of yet another communications revolution, our language is rapidly changing with words being shortened, punctuation removed or changed. This is even more reason to ensure that guidelines for clear communication survive well into the next generation as our language and style of communication evolves during the Era of Internet Communications.

Nobody can offer better compelling reasons to learn grammar  than Lynne Truss so here goes:

“One of the best descriptions of punctuation comes in a book entitled The Fiction Editor, the Novel and the Novelist (1989) by Thomas McCormack. He says the purpose of punctuation is “to tango the reader into the pauses, inflections, continuities and connections that the spoken line convey.”:”

Punctuation to the writer is like anatomy to the artist: He learns the rules so he can knowledgeably and controlledly depart from them as art requires. Punctuation is a means and its end is: helping the reader to hear, to follow.’

I did my best to write this with Lynne Truss in mind. Having said that I KNOW there are grammatical errors in this post. Please advise and I will revise!


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One response to “Eats, Shoots and Leaves by Lynne Truss: Book Review

  1. Pingback: Editing Part V: The Dead Grammar Rules Freedom Manifesto | Chazz Writes

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