E is for Eats, Shoots and Leaves: Punctuation Matters
Usually on Fridays in school, teachers slow the pace down a bit and give their restless charges a break with some lighter activities. The change of pace helps students clear their over-stuffed minds.
Following this widely accepted educator practice, I will take a break from grammar principles. Instead, I will mention two humorous books related to grammar, usage, and writing conventions.
One book, published in Great Britian in 2003, Eats, Shoots and Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation by Lynn Truss, has now sold more than three million copies worldwide. Seems like there might be a bit of interest in punctuation. You think?
In the first few pages of her book, Lynne Truss refers to a joke that emphasizes the importance of the comma in writing.
A panda walked into a library, sat down, and ate his lunch. After he finished his sandwich, he fired off two arrows from his handy bow.
The surprised librarian asked, “Why?
The panda tossed her a badly punctuated book. “I’m a Panda, and this book says we do that.”
The librarian looked up panda in the manual and found that a panda is “a large black-and-white bear-like mammal, native to China. It eats, shoots and leaves.”
With that, the panda walked out of the library.
A comma placed after the word shoots changes the entire meaning of the sentence. This joke captures the essence of the message that Truss wants to leave with us: be careful with punctuation. Bad punctuation changes the meaning of what you are trying to say.
Truss covers punctuation abuse (both in Great Britain and the United States) related to apostrophes, commas, colons, semicolons, dashes, and hyphens. She deplores, ridicules, and insults those who disregard the proper conventions for punctuating sentences and cause the general disintegration of the English language. Being a self-admitted sticker, she encourages the sticklers of the world to unite to eradicate childish and barbaric abuses of punctuation. We should “fight like tigers to preserve our punctuation,” she proclaims.
Look at that huge hot dog! (a giant hot dog in a bun)
Look at that huge, hot dog! (a very big, thirsty dog)
The point of all this is that punctuation does matter, and Truss brings that to our attention in a humorous, but serious, manner. Keep in mind though that there are differences between British spelling, punctuation, and vocabulary. These differences don’t really matter as long as you are consistent with the style guidelines of your own country. Of course there is a bit of finger-pointing between the two countries about which one has it right. No matter. That one will probably never be solved.
The following humorous little video points out a few differences between British English and American English. Take a minute to watch, and I guarantee you will chuckle.
So What? Who Cares?
Many metaphors have been used to describe the importance of punctuation, but Lynn Truss prefers this simple definition of purpose:
Punctuation is a courtesy designed to help readers to understand story without stumbling.
Improper punctuation can create potentially embarrassing situations, so the polite, careful writer will pay attention to punctuation.
Gotta love those know-it-all cats.
See you tomorrow. https://janiceheck.wordpress.com