Mol (mollyringle) wrote,

Punctuation r00lz.

I recently finished reading Eats, Shoots and Leaves by Lynne Truss, and must highly, highly recommend it for a) anyone who wants to brush up on their punctuation usage skills, or b) anyone who experiences the basic Pavlovian "kill" instinct when faced with signs like "We Buy Book's, CD's, Record's," and needs to feel that they are not alone. Not only does this book vindicate me for my occasional foaming-at-the-mouth rants about the comma splice (or "splice comma," depending how you look at it), but the way it's written is hilarious. I have not giggled aloud so much when reading a book in months. I'll give you some excerpts to illustrate:


...there is even a rather delightful publication for children called The Punctuation Repair Kit, which takes the line "Hey! It's uncool to be stupid!" – which is a lie, of course, but you have to admire them for trying. (32-33)

...when the possessor is a regular plural, the apostrophe follows the "s": The boys' hats (more than one boy)... I apologise if you know all this, but the point is many, many people do not. Why else would they open a large play area for children, hang up a sign saying "Giant Kid's Playground," and then wonder why everyone stays away from it? (Answer: everyone is scared of the Giant Kid.) (41)

...consider the difference between the following: "Verily, I say unto thee, This day thou shalt be with me in Paradise." And: "Verily I say unto thee this day, Thou shalt be with me in Paradise." Now, huge doctrinal differences hang on the placing of this comma. The first version, which is how Protestants interpret the passage (Luke, xxiii, 43), lightly skips over the whole unpleasant business of Purgatory and takes the crucified thief straight to heaven with Our Lord. The second promises Paradise at some later date (to be confirmed, as it were) and leaves Purgatory nicely in the picture for the Catholics, who believe in it. (74) [This problem emerges because Hebrew, like other ancient written languages, had no punctuation, and thus only in later transcriptions was punctuation added.]

The big final rule for the comma is...: don't use commas like a stupid person.
[Examples, with the problem summarized in my words:]
Leonora walked on her head, a little higher than usual. (Comma belongs after "on".)
Don't guess, use a timer or watch. (Should be a semicolon. This use actually conveys the opposite of its intended meaning.)
The society decided not to prosecute the owners of the Windsor Safari Park, where animals, have allegedly been fed live to snakes and lions, on legal advice. (Badly written sentence overall, but they definitely need to remove the comma after "animals.") (96-97)

Using the apostrophe correctly is a mere negative proof: it tells the world that you are not a thicko. The comma, while less subject to universal rules, is still a utilitarian mark, racing about with its ears back, trying to serve both the sense and the sound of the sentence – and of course wearing itself to a frazzle for a modest bowl of Chum. ... But colons and semicolons – well, they are in a different league, my dear! They give such lift! (105-106)


I could go on. Virtually every page has something quotable and wonderful. Tomorrow, maybe, I'll post the P.G. Wodehouse passage she includes, about dictating aloud. V. v. funny.
Tags: books, funny, irritation, linguistics, writing

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