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

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

by Lynne Truss


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The spirited and scholarly #1 New York Times bestseller combines boisterous history with grammar how-to’s to show how important punctuation is in our world—period.

In Eats, Shoots & Leaves, former editor Lynne Truss, gravely concerned about our current grammatical state, boldly defends proper punctuation. She proclaims, in her delightfully urbane, witty, and very English way, that it is time to look at our commas and semicolons and see them as the wonderful and necessary things they are. Using examples from literature, history, neighborhood signage, and her own imagination, Truss shows how meaning is shaped by commas and apostrophes, and the hilarious consequences of punctuation gone awry.

Featuring a foreword by Frank McCourt, and interspersed with a lively history of punctuation from the invention of the question mark in the time of Charlemagne to George Orwell shunning the semicolon, Eats, Shoots & Leaves makes a powerful case for the preservation of proper punctuation.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781592402038
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 04/11/2006
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 240
Sales rank: 34,072
Product dimensions: 5.04(w) x 7.20(h) x 0.64(d)
Age Range: 18 - 14 Years

About the Author

Lynne Truss is a writer and journalist who started out as a literary editor with a blue pencil and then got sidetracked. The author of three novels and numerous radio comedy dramas, she spent six years as the television critic of The Times of London, followed by four (rather peculiar) years as a sports columnist for the same newspaper. She won Columnist of the Year for her work for Women’s Journal. Lynne Truss also hosted Cutting a Dash, a popular BBC Radio 4 series about punctuation. She now reviews books for the Sunday Times of London and is a familiar voice on BBC Radio 4. She lives in Brighton, England.

Read an Excerpt

Introduction – The Seventh Sense

Excerpted from "Eats, Shoots & Leaves"
by .
Copyright © 2006 Lynne Truss.
Excerpted by permission of Penguin Publishing Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Eats Shoots & Leaves Foreword by Frank McCourt
Publisher's Note

Introduction—The Seventh Sense
The Tractable Apostrophe
That'll Do, Comma
Airs and Graces
Cutting a Dash
A Little Used Punctuation Mark
Merely Conventional Signs


What People are Saying About This

James Lipton

At long last, a worthy tribute to punctuation’s stepchildren: the neglected semicolon, the enigmatic ellipsis and the mad dash. Punc-rock on!
—(James Lipton, author of An Exaltation of Larks and writer and host of Inside the Actors Studio)

Frank McCourt

Sticklers unite!
What people are saying about Eats, Shoots & Leaves

If Lynne Truss were Roman Catholic I’d nominate her for sainthood. As it is, thousands of English teachers from Maine to Maui will be calling down blessings on her merry, learned head. (author of Angela’s Ashes)

From the Publisher

Eats, Shoots & Leaves “makes correct usage so cool that you have to admire Ms. Truss.”
—Janet Maslin, The New York Times

“Witty, smart, passionate.”
—Los Angeles Times Book Review, Best Books Of 2004: Nonfiction

“This book changed my life in small, perfect ways like learning how to make better coffee or fold an omelet. It’s the perfect gift for anyone who cares about grammar and a gentle introduction for those who don’t care enough.”
The Boston Sunday Globe

Richard Lederer

There is a multitude of us riding this planet for whom apostrophe catastrophes, quotation bloatation, mad dashes, and other comma-tose errors squeak like chalk across the blackboard of our sensibilities. At last we who are punctilious about punctuation have a manifesto, and it is titled Eats, Shoots & Leaves.
—(Richard Lederer, author of A Man of My Words and Anguished English)


A Message from the Author

At first glance, punctuation looks like a pretty small subject, I admit. When I first started to tell people I was writing a funny book about it, the reaction was generally the same: a puzzled frown, a pat on the shoulder, and the caring question, "You know this is commercial suicide?"

What is there to say about punctuation, after all (they said)? It is merely a set of conventional printers' marks which notate the written word. These marks are small; nobody under the age of thirty knows how to use them anymore; many sensible people are advocating that we drop them altogether. Worst of all, punctuation is so old-fashioned! If you go around publicly defending the apostrophe, for Pete's sake (they continued, their voices rising), don't you realize how uncool you'll be?

Whether I was wise to ignore these warnings only time will truly tell. I went ahead and wrote my book on punctuation anyway -- and, blimey! In the UK alone it has sold half a million copies in three months! Why? Well, I have three theories. First, punctuation is self-evidently in peril (look around and you will find cards printed with SEASONS GREETING'S, signs to MENS ROOM, films called TWO WEEKS NOTICE) -- and it turns out that there are millions of sensitive (older) people who feel actual pain when they are forced to swallow such illiterate stuff. Second, bad teaching of grammar has left a generation of clever young people clueless about how to use the written word correctly -- so they turn to Eats, Shoots & Leaves for painless instruction. Third, buyers think it is actually about pandas and are too embarrassed to take it back when they realize their mistake.

There have been many grammatical books about punctuation before, of course. The difference with Eats, Shoots & Leaves is that it's a mixture of essay, polemic, history and grammar, with the main emphasis on stories about James Thurber and Harold Ross at The New Yorker threatening each other with ash-trays over the second comma in "Red, white, and blue." Punctuation turns out to be a far from anodyne subject. Nicholson Baker eulogizes the "commash" (comma with a dash); George Orwell loathes the semicolon; Gertrude Stein abominates every punctuation mark you can think of. And people have died because of punctuation, it turns out. In 1916, the Irish insurrectionist Sir Roger Casement was "hanged on a comma" (the punctuation of the 1351 Act of Treason being decisive in his death sentence). Meanwhile, at the more trivial end of things, a member of a New England reading group once delightfully misplaced Shakespeare's punctuation so that King Duncan, in Macbeth, listened to the words of the wounded soldier in Act One and then announced with relish, "Go get him, surgeons!" (It's supposed to be "Go, get him surgeons.")

Does punctuation matter? I think so. And I think its demise is just the most obvious manifestation of a growing -- and overwhelmingly depressing -- disrespect for precision in language. By a tragic coincidence, understanding of the traditional techniques of the written word has plummeted just at the point when -- with the Internet, email, and text messaging -- people are writing more than ever before. Of course there are good arguments for abandoning old printers' marks in this context. But at the same time as I reluctantly acknowledge that language must move on, I'm so glad that it occurred to me to look at punctuation and celebrate it before it goes. It is a wonderful system, you see. It is elegant and simple; both an art and a science. Its purpose is to "tango the reader into the pauses, inflections, continuities and connections that the spoken line would convey."

There is a panda on the cover because of the fine panda joke that gave rise to the title, yet perhaps there was more than serendipity in the way our black-and-white friend reminds us that punctuation is a truly endangered species. Sometimes I feel like a lone explorer who has discovered Venice just on the point of it sinking into the lagoon, and is frantically taking pictures of it from every angle, saying, "But it's so beautiful! Look at the way the water reflects on that canal wall! The domes! The Campanile! The gondolas! Yes, Venice is old-fashioned (and shaped like a comma, as it happens), but what a shame it all has to go this way!" --Lynne Truss

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Eats, Shoots & Leaves 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 264 reviews.
Ghazali More than 1 year ago
This book is not a grammar or style guide. This is rather a book by someone who is passionate about language, in general, and punctuation, in particular. If you see a signboard of a shop advertising "CD's, Video's, DVD's, and Book's", and if you see another one declaring "No Dogs Please" and both of them trouble you immensely, then this book is for you.

Such grammatical errors have troubled me all my life, and I found this book not only immensely entertaining but I identified with the author's feelings very deeply. Yes, I do punctuate my text messages; yes, I do use proper capitalizations and punctuations in my e-mails; and the author declares that sadly most of the people do not bother about such niceties.

Funny, informative, and full of humourous anecdotes, Truss's book is an ode to an endangered species: the punctuation. I enjoyed every page of it.
Guest More than 1 year ago
It is clear that this person mistakenly read 'Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation' (this book is definitely intended to be read by adults) and not the milder children version 'Eats, Shoots& Leaves: Why, Commas really do make a difference!' which was intended as required reading for students. The book intended to instruct children on the importance of commas in writing is a worthwhile and well-written text.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Let's eat grandma ........ or Let's eat, Grandma .... get the joke!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Lynne Truss makes punctuation fun! I couldn't put this book down, nor could I stop laughing out loud! If you already love punctuation, you'll love this book. If you're trying to brush up on punctuation, this book makes it fun to learn. Read it!
EGHunter01 More than 1 year ago
Lynne Truss' book, Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation, offers a comical and delightful approach to the importance of proper punctuation and grammar. This book gives readers laugh-out-loud examples of improper sentence punctuation as well as other examples of improper punctuation that may lead to the misunderstanding of an intended message. *Funny and educational.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Yes, that's right, 5 Stars for a book about proper punctuation. I fully expected to get through this book only for my 2008 Challenges. In my mind's eye I saw myself reading a page or two and then falling sound asleep from boredom. I could not have been more wrong. Not only does Lynne Truss make punctuation interesting, she makes it funny. She knows just were little punctuation puns fit. Who knew there were 17 proper uses for the apostrophe?! There was, at onetime, a movement to have a special mark to indicate a rhetorical question. As is stated on the front flap, 'Through sloppy usage and low standards on the Internet, in e-mail, and now 'txt msgs', we have made proper punctuation an endangered species.' [not to mention proper spelling] I've given this book 5 Stars not only because I enjoyed it, but because I think all of us who have been out of the classroom for 10 years or more could use a refresher.
Guest More than 1 year ago
It did just that. I was always good at grammar and understood it and such, but never has a book impacted me so much 'maybe Harry Potter but even that didn't stick after Deathly Hallows came out' as Eats, Shoots, and Leaves. My middle school Language Arts suggested it, and I read her copy and LOVED it. I recently went out and bought my own to refer back to. Definately read it.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Definitely worth the couple hours to read. Entertaining and informative. All middle school students should read.
MissPrint More than 1 year ago
Seriously, when was the last time you read a book where you could literally say, "This book has changed my life." Eat, Shoots and Leaves by Lynn Truss is one such book. At first I thought a zero tolerance approach to punctuation sounded a bit extreme. That is until Truss mentioned one of my favorite movies ("Two Weeks Notice"), pointing out that the title should be "Two Weeks' Notice". I was shocked. I had always assumed an apostrophe was there. Then I started listening to The Plain White T's, a band whose name makes no sense with an apostrophe, and I knew things were getting serious. Nonetheless I will admit that it was a challenge reading the chapters about the apostrophe and the comma (although I have learned a few knew tricks for commas). Then I came to a chapter entitled "Airs and Graces." From there onward, the book was a revelation. I learned my punctuation from my mom and copious reading. I still have a hard time explaining dependent clauses and why it is appropriate to use "well" instead of "good" even though I can tell when a sentence is complete/written correctly if I can read it. I am sharing this background so that when I say Truss explains all of the punctuation rules presented in her book you will know I mean really clear. Truss has illustrated that there is a time and place for the dash and double-dash in all good literature. She has also shown that, to avoid over-using the dash, a colon can easily replace a dash in certain situations. I never knew that! What's nice about Eats, Shoots and Leaves is that it's not a dry read. Yes, Truss is talking about punctuation. Yes, she is deadly serious about it. But she maintains a sense of humor throughout: including witty examples and poking fun at punctuation (and punctuation sticklers) as much as she explains it. In addition, Truss includes abundant historical information about the punctuation marks she discusses ranging from the first names for parentheses to the first appearance of an apostrophe in printed documents. I would recommend this book highly to anyone with an interest in writing. Even if you know the basics, Truss has a few tricks up her sleeve that are sure to give your writing a little extra flair.
threecrazyboys More than 1 year ago
A teacher recommended this book. My kids love it. It makes learning fun. MUST HAVE!!!
MCarmen71 More than 1 year ago
Grammarians all over the world, unite! Eats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss is a book everyone with a pulse should own. If you love the written word as I do, you most likely have a passion for punctuation as well. Truss weaves humor into a beautifully written English lesson, and if you can get past her obvious disgust for American English (okay, let¿s face it, you just need to get past it already), you¿ll find the true gem that¿s cleverly hidden amongst the satire.

With chapters titled ¿The Seventh Sense¿, ¿That¿ll Do, Comma¿ and ¿Cutting a Dash¿ (which is also the name of a BBC Radio 4 series), Truss turns learning about the proper use of punctuation into lively reading. The fast passed energetic vocabulary literally jumps off the page and engages you right from the start.

Eats, Shoots & Leaves is a highly recommended read for scholars and professors alike; and for anyone named Tom, Dick or Harry. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
The_Iceman More than 1 year ago
Lynn Truss, a proud, self-proclaimed snobbish pedant, makes no bones about the fact that her short book, "Eats, Shoots and Leaves" is really an extended essay on pedantry - a style book, a prescriptive grammar, a manifesto, a rant and, perhaps saddest of all, a eulogy - bemoaning the demise of the correct use of punctuation in the written English word today.

As a reader, writer and speaker who, frankly, takes pride in an extensive vocabulary and takes pains to use our magnificent language correctly, I found myself nodding vigorously in agreement as Truss eloquently spoke about the purpose of correct punctuation. She helps us to understand that commas, apostrophes, colons and the other denizens of our pantheon of punctuation marks are aids and signs on a road map for communication without misunderstanding. They are an invaluable assistance to reading out loud with the proper interpretation, lilt and intonation that an author intended in the same fashion as a well annotated musical score enables a musician to interpret music as a composer meant it to be played.

"Eats, Shoots and Leaves" also provides us with snippets of the history of punctuation. I wager that few of us were aware that the apostrophe first appeared as early as the 16th century.

If history and a pedantic rant delivered with a school marm attitude, a baleful glare and a wrathful wagging finger were all we got from a reading of "Eats, Shoots and Leaves", I'm sure most of us would have yawned in complete boredom and Lynn Truss's novel would not likely have reached the list of best sellers. But, thankfully, "Eats, Shoots and Leaves" is also liberally sprinkled with a very healthy dose of dry as dust British wit, humour and sarcasm that hit my funny bone with a full-sized mallet. One of my favourites was the story of a community group who had built an enormous playground for the children of their neighbourhood and advertised it with the sign "GIANT KID'S PLAYGROUND". To the amazement of the group that had built the facility, it was hardly ever used. Lynn Truss, with tongue in cheek, suggested it was probably because everyone was terrified of meeting the giant kid.

By the way, the much maligned salesman of this review's title is actually a complete tee-totaller. He is, however, a very exceptional pickled-herring salesman! (If you'll forgive my mixed metaphors, a very different kettle of fish, indeed). This witty little example shows how the poor, lowly, and much misunderstood dash can eliminate any possibility of misunderstanding the sentence.

Highly recommended.

Paul Weiss
Guest More than 1 year ago
Having only recently come to live in Britain from Jamaica I thought we were poor on our use of the English Language. Well now I know that a whole lot of people here, including professionals, badly need to read this book and take notes.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is hilarious and informative - anyone who says differently must be an incredibly boring person. Truss didn't write it to be used as a textbook (she even said that!), but as an entertaining work. I feel sorry for anyone that scoffed at it, nose in the air. Try to enjoy life a little more!!!
Guest More than 1 year ago
It is the perfect book to sit and read if you need a laugh. Lynn Truss was brilliant. Even though I am from the U.S.A and it was written about British grammar, I enjoyed it all the same. I'd like to take her advice and protest against incorrect grammer with an apostrophe on a stick. Sticklers unite!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I finally found someone as obsessed with grammar and punctuation as I am! I now want to take Lynne Truss' advice and walk around with a giant black marker to put apostrophes in the words that are missing them on public signs.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is a superb book in the humble opinion of one to whom poor grammar, spelling and puncuation is something up with which she will not put! :)
ablueidol on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Part of the generation that was taught this at school (59-70) and so is my son (95- ) but work with well educated 20-30 year olds who have no idea and whose writing suffer accordingly. Would signpost those members in the UK to bookmark the Plain English campaign website; not sure if these campaigns as other English speakers¿ counterparts but if not then start one!
johnthefireman on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A fun way to check whether my grammar and punctuation is correct. And those dreaded apostrophes...
Sile on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Not a reference book as such, but a humourous guide to the modern use of punctuation and why it is so important to maintain standards without being too rigid. Highly entertaining and education; I will be keeping two copies by both my work computer and my home computer just in case I am tempted to stray from the rules.
Eric_the_Hamster on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A very funny take on grammar for the pedant (which I am!). I am looking forward to Lynne Truss' book on manners (will be going on my Christmas list)
Gwendydd on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
What a delight! Absolutely hilarious, and for people like me who get angry at misplaced apostrophes, this book is a great vindication. Truss provides a fascinating view of the history of punctuation and how it has changed over the centuries, as well as very clear-cut rules for how it should be used today. She also provides absolutely hilarious examples of how meaning changes when you use the wrong punctuation.My only complaint is her tirade at the end of the book. I totally agree with her that modern changes in communication are causing a dangerous neglect of punctuation, but I don't think she has enough faith in the human need to communicate effectively. I think we'll find a way to keep communicating clearly whether we keep our current punctuation or not.
tonidew on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I'm a self confessed pedant and loved this. If you don't know your orange's from your oranges or just don't care, look elsewhere.
justininlondon on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Well, good luck to the woman for having made bags of money out of this thin volume. And I guess she deserves credit for bringing this important subject to the attention of millions who wouldn't otherwise have read a book on language.BUT I simply found it scrappily written and unclear in its objectives.I could have forgiven all that if it had been really desperately funny as some seem to think it was. But for me, it just wasn't. (If you want a really hilarious book on language, try Bill Bryson, who'll also teach you something.) Any humour that there is in the book derives from a pseudo-superior sense of poking fun at those who don't know how to punctuate -- which is frankly puerile in itself and not enough to sustain even a very slim volume such as this. I came away from it not sure what sort of book it was supposed to be.Will it helpfully teach you how to punctuate English more clearly? No, apart from a few vague pointers.Is it a clear guide to the history of English punctuation? No.Is it just basically a humorous book that happens to be about punctuation? No.
ColinFine on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I put off reading this for months, because I thought I was going to get angry with it.In the event, once I got past her infatuation with the apostrophe, not a bad book. But as David Crystal says in 'The Fight for English', the rhetoric of 'The Zero Tolerance Approach' is just silly.