Sunday, May 22, 2005

Eats, Shoots & Leaves

"Eats, Shoots & Leaves"....where to begin. I saw this review somewhere (I wish I could remember where) and it summed it up nicely for me: "The good news for us grammar sticklers is that a book on grammar is a best seller. The bad news is that it's 'Eats, Shoots & Leaves'...."

I could start with the title, which isn't even grammatically incorrect, only misleading (It would make sense in a larger context, such as: Sleeps, 12 hours a day; eats, shoots and leaves; mates, once a year...etc). In British English, you omit the serial comma before the 'and' so it becomes "eats, shoots, and leaves" but in American English you don't. The book was written by a British author, and it wasn't changed for publication in the U.S., so there are a number of places where it's just....WRONG...for American grammar. And even for British grammar, it is not internally consistent within the book itself. Sigh.

I hesitate to even mention the punctuation game on the book's website (except of course that I just did), and how it has ERRORS IN GRAMMAR AND PUNCTUATION on it. This is a book on punctuation, and ON THE WEBSITE it has errors.

In the Apostrophe section:
"Four yards' worth"
This is an example of British punctuation versus American punctuation. In American punctuation, it would be "Four yards worth". Sigh.

In the Comma section, it's worse. It starts saying: "If you don't think a comma is NEEDED anywhere click the NO COMMA button." (emphasis on NEEDED mine)
We have:
"Stop, or I'll scream."
A comma indicates a pause. In this sentence, I think the pause is clearly optional.

"Of course, there weren't enough tickets to go round."
First of all, it would be 'round because it's short for around and contractions require apostrophes to indicate where the omitted letters were. Second, this sentence could be read as exasperation, meaning "Of course" isn't set off on its own.

Finally, if you miss three, you see:
"You're a 83% STICKLER!"
which should be:
"You're AN 83% STICKLER!" (emphasis mine)
whether you're British or not.

Personally, I think I'm a 100% stickler. Anyway...

Here's a great review from the New Yorker. It's interesting to observe that as written communication becomes more important, people's ability to write is decreasing. Blame e-mail, or Internet chat, or cell-phone text messaging (where brevity outweighs correctness), but more and more I see people unable to string literate sentences together. Which is OK with me, since it inevitably means there will be less competent competition for me when I become a writer. Winking 3 And yet, I weep for future generations. Sigh.


  1. I agree completely. I would also say that I'm a 100% stickler, but I should point out that it only applies to the rules I actually know. A while back a bought a number of books on grammar and vocabulary. I should drag those out and make time to read them (since we can't all read as fast you, Phoenix).

    You know what I would love to see, a utility, akin to comments, where users would be able to leave "corrections" on your posts. It is thanks in part to blogs that one must be factually correct; wouldn't it be grand if everyone were grammatically correct as well?

  2. 1) Strunk & White are all you need. The Elements of Style and The Elements of Grammar. And they're thing, small books. 1-day reads. Put it in the bathroom.

    2) You mean like a wiki-blog? Hmm...

  3. I wasn't thinking wiki-blog in particular, because then you would just rely on other people to fix your mistakes. Having other people point them out is more embarrassing, so the author would (hopefully) strive to not make the mistakes in the first place.

    It's kind of like trying to get your 404 count down.