On "Eats, Shoots & Leaves"
Edited by chromatic
To keep everyone on the same page, publishers have style guides that
spell out matters of punctuation, abbreviation, and good sense. There are, however, occasionally matters of contention between writers and editors, just as brace placement and tabs-versus-spaces can be contentious between developers. A recent
thread From the Editors List brought out some well suppressed grammar
Before I get snowed under with digging out from a week of
email, I thought I would pass this along. While on vacation, one of the books
I read was
Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation, by Lynne
I found this useful and entertaining, although it is written in
British-English and punctuated accordingly. Many of us will enjoy knowing
that we aren't too odd for having an "inner stickler."
Here is a ditty from the back cover.
A panda walked into a cafe. He ordered a sandwich, ate it, then
pulled out a gun and shot the waiter. "Why?" groaned the injured man. The
panda shrugged, tossed him a badly punctuated wildlife manual and walked out.
And sure enough, when the waiter consulted the book, he found an explanation.
"Panda," ran the entry for his assailant. "Large black and white mammal native
to China. Eats, shoots and leaves." We see signs in shops every day for
"Banana's" and even "Gateaux's". Competition rules. . . .
It is definitely a fun read.
It has one hell of a sales ranking.
BookScan U.K. has total sales of 607K for this title since
publication in November. Incredible. It was the number 1 book in the U.K. at Christmas time.
Brian Sawyer and I have been drooling over it since he first
mentioned it to me. I now have it in my grubby little paws (finally started it last night) and am loving every paragraph. I mentioned
it on my blog and got a more than pedantic (lovingly so) set of
I read it last month and loved it. As you note, the Brit version is
peculiar in punctuation, but bloody entertaining.
I'm now reading Thinking
Like Your Editor in order to learn how to, like, think.
Yes, that's an excellent book, with lots of good info on how
the publishing industry works.
This Brit is chuckling a little, the "Brit version" being the
Then again, I can easily live with the soubriquet "peculiar, but bloody
The book was a bestseller here last year and topped the Christmas present
lists. It caused quite a storm in the columns of various broadsheet
newspapers. Ms. Truss's attitude to punctuation is by no means universally
The best response was from Simon Jenkins in the Times. He contended that
the full stop was the only necessary punctuation mark. There's a lot to be
said for this point of view. Although I have not embraced it wholeheartedly, I
found that as an ideal it tightened up my word choice.
As a parting shot I will observe that the most irritating thing about U.S.
punctuation for me is that it seems to require a capital letter after a colon.
(At least semi-conditioned after editing in U.S. English for four years, but
never quite shaking the idiom of the mother tongue.)
Simon St. Laurent:
That, and our placing punctuation inside of quotes. On both
scores I vastly prefer the U.K. version, though I still find myself typing the
You'll be happy to know then, maybe, that in my own writing I
always put my punctuation *outside* my quotation marks, following the British
convention (or so I'm told). It probably drives my copyeditors mad, but oh
well. . . .
Depends on the context for me. If it's a spoken quote, I'll
follow form. If it's something that can easily be confused, such as . . .
The compiler correctly interpreted the line "A=B(1,2,3)", even
though it wasn't programmed to handle functions yet.
. . . then I'll place it outside.
As it's now available in a U.S. version (a la the Harry Potter
series), I thought it worth specifying. (Actually, I think the grammatically
correct phrase is: "I thought it's worth specifying." But that sounds stodgy.)
Return to: From the Editors List