Lynne Truss achieved the impossible: a bestselling book on punctuation. Nobody was more surprised by the success of her 2003 book Eats, Shoots & Leaves than Truss herself, who had hoped the slim volume would appeal to “the minority of British people who love punctuation and don’t like to see it mucked about with.”
Likening punctuation to good manners, Truss sets the record straight about periods, commas, and even the near-obsolete semi-colon. There’s really no excuse for not getting it, she tells us, just as there’s no excuse for eating with your elbows poking into your neighbours’ ribs. If you don’t understand the difference between “The people in the queue who managed to get tickets were very satisfied” and “The people in the queue, who managed to get tickets, were very satisfied,” you have some work to do. (Hint: the second sentence involves more tickets than the first.)
I don’t have many heroes, but Truss is one of them. What endears her to me, above all else, is her obvious love of language. She recounts how, as a teenager, she spent her evenings “at home with the wireless listening to [a program in which] contestants spotted grammatical errors in pieces of prose,” while her friends were out “getting their necks disfigured by love bites.”
I was a little disappointed that Truss didn’t follow up with a book about grammar, as I’d expected and hoped. Instead she decided to explore poor manners in a book called Talk To The Hand, which was a decent read but had none of ESL’s flair. On the plus side, her decision (and the gap it left) is one of the forces that spurred me to start this blog. We sticklers, as she calls us word nerds, need a place to congregate and fulminate.