April 2004

Waging war on sloppy punctuation

By Lynne Truss
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British author Lynne Truss is a self-described "stickler," a nut about punctuation who can't rest easy when she sees mistakes on street signs, newspaper headlines or billboards. ("Within seconds, shock gives way to disbelief, disbelief to pain, and pain to anger," she says upon spotting a misplaced apostrophe.) As a punctuation perfectionist, Truss considers herself part of a rare breed, and she expected her book, Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation, to interest only a tiny segment of the British population when it was first published in the U.K. last year. However, to the surprise of the author, her publisher and just about everyone else in Britain, the book became a number-one bestseller, even topping sales of John Grisham's latest legal thriller.

Will the book have the same appeal for American readers? We'll find out on April 12, when Gotham Books releases the North American edition of Eats, Shoots & Leaves. Editors at Gotham, who might have been afraid to wade into the copyediting waters with an opinionated author like Truss, wisely decided to reprint the book exactly as it was in the original version, with all its British spellings and punctuation intact. Some of the references might well be confusing to American readers she refers to a period as a "full stop," for example but Truss manages to get her point across nonetheless.

Proper punctuation, she argues, is similar to good manners, a system for making your intentions clear. Truss fusses about people who insist on adding apostrophes to plurals (DVD's), who use the wrong possessive for "it" (its'), and who put commas in many, many places where they don't belong. Her most hilarious example of the latter is replicated in the book's title, a reference to a wildlife manual with poor punctuation that unintentionally turned a panda into a gun-wielding restaurant diner (you'll have to read the book for the full joke).

Funny and self-deprecating but always serious about her mission, Truss is a stern commander in the war on careless writing. Weary editors, schoolteachers and fellow sticklers everywhere will wish her victory in this much-needed battle.


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Eats, Shoots & Leaves

Eats, Shoots & Leaves

By Lynne Truss
ISBN 9781592400874

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