Lynne Truss: Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation

Aug 24, 2015

I came to Eats, Shoots & Leaves by following a rabbit hole started in a footnote in Zaft’s Esperanto. It was available in public library, short and has a rating 3.84 in GoodReads, so why not, right?

Well, I probably should have skipped it. I’ve been taught English for many years by many teachers and I’ve learned a lot by osmosis from books, movies, TV shows and podcasts. I understand both written and spoken English (at least in the common accents) pretty well, I can speak with typical Czech accent and fumbling for words, but writing is a challenge. On one hand, I can look for words and think about each sentence - that’s nice, but I’ve never learned rules for such things as punctuation or - god forbid - style with few exception which I mostly forgot. Therefore I was hoping I would get at least some pointers from this book, not in a form of a reference material, but at least a little bit.

Some of that was contained in this book. However, all the useful content was buried in anecdotes of passing quality at best, snarkiness and general self-importance. It didn’t completely discourage me from reading the book, but it made it hard to concentrate on the subject matter itself. The core message was: use punctuation, use commas and semicolons. The details are a bit fuzzy. I suppose, I’ll have to look for some reference or style guide to get better at this.

The most pleasant part of this book was the historical background for punctuation and how the written text evolved from a plain stream of letters and got separated by spaces and then marks for pauses which developed in commas and dashes and semicolons. This, however, could be fitted on twenty pages without all the fluff around.

My recommendation is: don’t read the book unless you already wield the power of English punctuation and don’t have anyone around you could by snooty about it with.