Review: Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation by Lynne Truss


Now that I’ve been reading several books on writing, I’ve come to the conclusion that books on writing should either be funny, matter of fact or zen-like.


Eats, Shoots & Leaves is hilarious from page one to page 204. You half expect the bibliography to be funny as well. The book reads easy and there is no burden that the very idea of punctuation could bring you. Perhaps, the punctuation vigilante extraordinaire in Lynne Truss thought that humor was the only way to make a book on punctuation a bestseller. Three million copies sold and many more by the minute, this book changes the way you look at the little squiggles in your sentences, the things you do away with while whatsapping and texting.

Punctuation is important as you can see.


Nowadays many a good feature features punctuation: and yes, of course, a Fifty Shades of Grey variety of punctuation hiccups infographic is a timely read.

It must be Truss’s book which started this. You actually wonder while reading her book  whether punctuation has a history. Of course it does, like everything else, but would you ever think about a moment of origin as far as the not so innocent comma is concerned?

While a librarian called Aristophanes of Byzantium seems to have started punctuation, it was probably much later, in the thirteenth century that the initial letter of a sentence was capitalized. This was probably an offshoot of the decoration of the first letter in a book, a staple of manuscripts from the fourth to the seventh centuries.

Punctuation emerged more as a printer’s necessity than anything else, the pioneer being Aldus Manutius, a printer in Venetia. He was the founder of the semicolon and the comma as it is used now. Incidentally, there was no punctuation in Latin.

Although Lynne Truss does not dare skirt the debate on punctuation in other languages, I couldn’t help thinking about the rampant use of Western notations such as comma, question mark, exclamation mark and full stop in Indian languages. Didn’t punctuation matter in this part of the world? I found a link where it is explained how punctuation may have been substituted by language itself:

You also wonder about the question mark in right to left languages and sure enough they face you the other way.


Lynne Truss unleashes the inner stickler and the roaring salivating, clawing punctuation vigilante in you. Pipe up the red pens and picket Harrods if you see a misplaced comma.  She wonders if the Apostrophe protection society(it does exist!) has a militant wing. Cruelty to punctuation is unlegislated, she says. Unless you count passionate instances of punctuation concern by F.T.Marinetti and G.B.Shaw: a limited number of supporters of what others see as uncouth bacilli.


Punctuation, however, is alive and kicking. Take the revolutionary Emoticon and the Emoji. The emoticon has changed the way people communicate :-). The Emoji is pictorial representation, a kind of modern day hieroglyphic that I often feel acts like a mask to what you really think. So the marks you make are as important as content; in fact they change the meaning of the content entirely.

You do remember Strunk and White’s Elements of Style, don’t you? Truss wraps up her book with a delicious story by Bob Hirschfeld about the Strunkenwhite Virus where an evil grammarian virus wreaks panic throughout corporate America as email on email refuse to go through, bringing back furious error messages likeYour dependent clause preceding your independent clause must be set off by commas

Imagine that—this book never ceases to surprise. Read it and become a punctuation Crusader. On that note which punctuation mark do you identify with the most?


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