Tag Archives: English language

Stanley Fish on The Current: Requiem for a Sentence

I caught a bit of this interview on The Current with literary critic Stanley Fish who recently wrote a book called, How to Write a Sentence and How to Read One. Professor Fish is a self-described connoisseur of fine sentences. “Some appreciate fine art; others appreciate fine wines. I appreciate fine sentences.”

Herewith is the delightful interview Professor Fish had with Anna Maria Tremonte yesterday on The Current. Give it a listen here.

My long time favourite opening sentence is from Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. It goes like this:

“It was inevitable: the scent of bitter almonds always reminded him of the fate of unrequited love.”

This is the one sentence I have always been able to remember and it’s the one sentence that still makes me think and feel. Do you have a favourite sentence?


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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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