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Literature / Eats, Shoots & Leaves

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Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation (was the colon the right mark to use for a book title with a subheading?) by Lynne Truss is a book about punctuation and how often it is misused, with plenty of humor within its explanations. The title comes from a joke about a panda who walks into a café, orders a sandwich, eats it, then draws a gun and fires two shots into the air, producing a poorly punctuated wildlife manual as explanation. It is meant to be humorous, but informative. (Wait, was that comma necessary?)


The author remains a senior journalist for the Times, the British Newspaper with the strictest and most prescriptive attitude to English grammar. They take grammar, punctuation and spelling very seriously on this paper. And it shows.

Has been compared to "Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers," though this book isn't about dead folks.

Tropes seen in this work:

  • Americanization: A publisher's note in the American version notes that attempts to Americanize the book would be both futile and misguided, and Truss makes note of the differences between American and British names for certain punctuation marks on occasion. Interestingly enough, the publisher's note in question uses the etymologically more-correct American spelling for "Americanize" (whereas the British would spell it "Americanise"), but then uses the etymologically less-correct British spelling for "humour". (They're both Oxford Spelling, which purports to concern itself with etymology but is inconsistent in its application.)
  • Broken Aesop: One reviewer pointed out that although it's a book-length rant about declining standards of punctuation, it contains numerous punctuation errors, including one in its own dedication.
    • The errors begin as early as the subtitle, for those who maintain that "zero-tolerance" should have a hyphen (It's a compound adjective).
  • Completely Missing the Point: In the retrospective introduction, Truss describes the Defeatist Bookshop Woman, who goes to her book signing bemoaning her lack of grammatical knowledge, but fails to seek out the solution right in front of her and then leaves.
  • Demoted to Extra: Truss laments the fate of the semicolon, and to a lesser extent, the colon.
  • Grammar Wank: The topic of the book.
  • New Media Are Evil: Apparently, many people admit to their punctuation going out the window in emails, constantly using dashes and "those dot, dot, dot things" (ellipses—singular form ellipsis, which I point out because the plural of "ellipse" is spelled the exact same way). She also doesn't like smileys, because she thinks people will forget that punctuation marks can be used for anything else.
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  • Serious Business: Truss is pleased to hear that there is such a thing as an "Apostrophe Protection Society" but feels that they are not doing enough and suggests starting a militant wing.
  • Take That!: Directed at the writer Gertrude Stein in two separate chapters, and at a former pen-pal of the author's thrice in one chapter.


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