Monday, September 24, 2007

Comma One, Comma All! It's National Punctuation Day: Eats, Shoots and Leaves by Lynn Truss

A giant panda walks into a bar. "You can't drink here," the bartender says. "You're a panda. My liquor license doesn't cover pandas!"

"I'm a panda?" says the panda. "Prove it!"

The bartender pulls a dictionary out from under the bar, looks up "panda," and slaps it down on the counter, jabbing at the definition with his forefinger. "See!" he says. "Read it yourself. Sounds like you to me!"

The panda grabs the book and reads carefully. "Geez," he mutters. "I didn't know about this! Well, gimme a burger, then," he growls. "That ain't illegal, is it?"

The panda slams down the burger, yanks a pistol out, and shoots out all the bottles of booze lined up behind the bar. "So long," he mumbles, and starts for the door.

"Why the heck did you do that?" the flabbergasted barkeep yells.

"Just doin' what Webster says I'm supposed to do," the panda replies laconically, as he stomps out the door. "Says right there a panda eats, shoots, and leaves!"

See what happens when incorrect punctuation causes major misunderstandings? If author Lynn Truss has her way, misapplications of the comma, semi-colon, and apostrophe would shrink faster than a panda's habitat. A self-admitted stickler, Truss's little book Eats(,) Shoots and Leaves has become the bible of persnickety punctuation prudes all over the English-speaking world. Her examples of misapplied punctuation are hilarious, and her style is pugnacious but jolly, making the book a pleasant read for teenagers and adults. Within the humor, however, the point is made effectively that punctuation matters!

So think about it. What would you rather see on National Punctuation Day: a panda who eats shoots and leaves or a panda who eats, shoots, and leaves?



  • The latter, so long as I'm out of the line of fire!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8:48 PM  

  • I tell my students every semester, "No semi-colons. Most of you misuse them, and the ones who don't use them to soften their best arguments."

    By Blogger Dave, at 10:13 PM  

  • Good lord, I have one coworker who randomly inserts commas everywhere, even where you'd least expect to find any kind of punctuation -- and another who uses semicolons always and everywhere in place of everything else. These people are nuts.

    By Anonymous Mike, at 12:00 AM  

  • I hope Dave isn't an English teacher. The comma placed after you misuse them seems of questionable appropriateness and I don't understand the content after that comma.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8:29 AM  

  • Some stickler. I picked up the book when it came out. In the first twenty or so pages she refers to "ambiguous" quotation marks when she clearly means "extraneous."

    and at one point she writes, "I have always felt that if someone wants to know how to spell 'Connecticut' they will look it up."

    No. Although it may be a lost cause, first she should write "I have always thought" or "held" or something like that.

    Second, the subjectand verb don't agree. It should be "someone...he" or "someone...she" or if you must "someone...he or she." Alternatively, "if people want...they."

    Strunk and White are cheaper and better.

    By Anonymous Alex Bensky, at 8:57 AM  

  • I still have nightmares about the 'Oxford Comma'.

    By Blogger Voolfie, at 9:05 AM  

  • See what a hot button punctuation is!!!

    Anon 8:29's statement, "Most of you misuse them, and the ones who don't use them to soften their best argument" is confusing precisely because there is no appropriate punctuation mark* to replicate the meaning which would be clear in spoken speech. What he meant to say was "Most of you misuse them, and those of you who do NOT misuse them often weaken your first point by what you say after the semi-colon." (*Use of italics to emphasize the "NOT" would not be considered punctuation, strictly speaking, although its function would be that of punctuation in this case.)

    There are, however, TWO valid uses of the semi-colon. They are essential when using three medium short and related declarative sentences in a series. (Example: I came to this belief in error; I learned quickly that I was wrong; and I made restitution as soon as I was able. The second use is to show that two sentences are of equal weight and should be considered together. (Example: Abraham Lincoln was a thoughtful but active president; his personal life, however, was often darkened by bouts of depression.) The semi-colon provides a brief pause, less choppy than a (full stop) period between the two thoughts and suggests that the two thoughts should be considered together as part of a point to be made in the next sentence or paragraph.

    Semi-colons are like the little black dress--stodgy but great when you need them!

    You are so right; you have amply exhibited the fact that you are a great proofreader; and you have a promising career in the grammar gremlin biz! We await your book!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9:20 AM  

  • Anonymous 9:20,
    Er, you left out the comma after the quotation from Anonymous 8:29 in the second paragraph of your comment. (The quotation is in apposition to the word "statement.") I agree with your defense of the much maligned semi-colon, however.

    I make the same mistake, leaving out the closing comma or the closing parenthesis mark, all the time.

    I guess we need to be both vigilant in the matter of grammar and punctuation and more forgiving of each other as we struggle to communicate with the imperfect instruments we have.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9:29 AM  

  • Second, the subjectand verb don't agree. It should be "someone...he" or "someone...she" or if you must "someone...he or she." Alternatively, "if people want...they."

    I realize that, technically, "they" isn't supposed to be an appropriate pronoun for "someone," but I'm all in favor of changing the rules in this case. Using "they" as a gender-neutral pronoun is, IMHO, better than either using "he" or "she" (and offending gender-warriors in the process) or using "him/her" (which is just plain clunky, as is adding the whole "if people want" part).

    By Blogger Kev, at 1:45 PM  

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