Lynne Truss Well, the disappointment of the week was the “in-store appearance” by Lynne Truss, authoress of the surprise British Überbestseller Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero-Tolerance Approach to Punctuation. I had decided not to Amazon it from England, and it was just this week when I spotted a pile o’ books at This Ain’t. I enacted the mammalian instinct of immediately slapping my hand onto the pile, as if to keep the brood’s competing primates from getting their claws onto it.

I was beside myself with suppressed chuckles on the way home, to the extent that a woman on the subway asked me what I was reading and a Chinese chick on a candy-coloured cellphone walked out of my vicinity at the station. It’s a funny book if you’re situated where it’s forbidden to laugh out loud; reading it at home, the book is merely droll.

En tout cas, Thursday the 29th came around and I arrived at 12:22 for the 12:30 appearance by Truss. Held at the aptly-named Nicholas Hoare, a well-scrubbed upper-middle-class undergraduate girl immediately demanded I hand her my bag. Like I’m going to steal anything, particularly while standing in an authoress queue overseen by two Hoare staff. It turned out to be merely a book signing. Standing in line, I was let down in advance; I suffered anticipatory letdown. And I was certainly not going to pull out a copy of the book bought somewhere else for her to sign – the Hoares might’ve dialed 911.

While snapping photos with one’s spycam, I rehearsed what I was going to say and predicted it would last all of 60 seconds. I was optimistic by about 15. I told her the book jacket wrote e-mail while the body copy used (the hated, French-seeming) email (“Oh, yes, that’s the American spelling.” “Actually, there are several spellings – big-E-hyphen, small-e-hyphen…”). I then launched into my little spiel. In captioning and subtitling, rendition of the spoken word is important, I told her, but there are a few things we do there that we wouldn’t do in print; if you ever come out with a second edition, you might want to talk about captioning and subtitling.

She beamed quite a smile, nodded, and thanked me, and that was it.

At future readings and appearances, I pledge never to be as defensive or perfunctory as the authors I have met this year.

Now. Gems from the book?

  1. p. xvii: “ ‘It will be debated… even in the House of Lords, where a woman named Lady Strange – I kid thee not – will actually tell the panda joke’ ”: Not quite.

    1. 15th December 2003Lord Faulkner of Worcester: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that positive Answer. Her belief in the correct use of English language and punctuation is clearly shared by a large number of people. Lynn Truss’s excellent little book, Eats, Shoots & Leaves, is top of the best-seller lists this Christmas with a print run that has been extended from 15,000 to 400,000 copies. The title is a joke about pandas, which I do not have time to explain.

      Does the Minister not agree that regrettably few people know how to use commas, apostrophes and figures of speech properly and that the Government and Parliament should set an example? For example, there is a notice not far from your Lordships’ Chamber which gives “Fridays” a possessive apostrophe. Will she also impress on her colleagues how important it is that the comma is used correctly so that the sentence “A woman, without her man, is nothing” is corrected to “A woman: without her, man is nothing”?

      Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, in anticipation of my noble friend’s Question, I obtained Lynn Truss’s book and read it over the weekend. I recommend it to any noble Lord who is interested in pursuing grammar. Perhaps I shall receive a free copy now! Of course, the panda went into a bar and “eats, shoots and leaves.” As noble Lords will know, it depends on where the comma is placed; indeed, as it does in the phrase about women and their requirement for men, which is in the same vein.

    2. 8 [but not “8th”] January 2004 – Mr. Tom Harris (Glasgow, Cathcart) (Lab): I rise briefly in defence of the comma, and specifically to talk about amendment Nº 52. One of the joys of serving on Committees is that, as someone who is not a trained lawyer, and therefore probably in a minority, I find it interesting to look at how syntax and punctuation can change the meaning of sentences. I was given as a Christmas present by my son a book by Lynne Truss called, Eats, Shoots & Leaves. At the risk of boring the Committee, I should explain that the title is based on a story of a panda who walks into a café, orders and eats a sandwich, and then stands up, takes out a gun, fires two shots in the air and walks out. When the waiter asks him why he is doing that, the animal says, ‘‘I’m a panda, look it up,’’ and throws the waiter a badly-punctuated dictionary. The definition of panda says ‘‘Eats, shoots and leaves.’’ Amendment Nº 52 would insert a comma after the word ‘‘identity’’ which would render the sentence completely different from that in the clause as drafted and mean that establishing the person’s identity would be an option.

    3. 3 [but indeed not “3rd”] Mar 2004Baroness Barker: I shall speak to Amendment Nº 56. I merely observe that the duel over the preceding amendments ought to be fought between parliamentary counsel and the noble Earl, with copies of Lynne Truss’s Eats, Shoots & Leaves at 50 paces.

    4. 23 Apr 2004David Cairns: I understand that a best-selling book at Christmas was about grammar. It was called Eats, Shoots & Leaves, and concerned the apostrophe. The hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon might have done well to study that book before framing the question, because I think it contains grammatical errors. I am not as concerned about grammar as my hon. Friend, who is far more learned in these matters, but I do not like the notion of being “bound” by the treaty.

  2. pp. 4, 5: “No one understands us seventh-sense people. They regard us as freaks. When we point out illiterate mistakes, we are often aggressively instructed to ‘get a lfe’ by people who, interestingly, display no evidence of having lives themselves…. In short, we are unattractive know-all obsessives who get things out of proportion and are in continual peril of being disowned by our exasperated families.” Or readers. Or editors.

  3. p. 15: Oh, does this one ever ring true. “While other girls were out with boyfriends on Sunday afternoons, getting their necks disfigured by love bites, I was at home with the wireless listening to an Ian Messiter quiz called Many a Slip, in which erudite and amusing contestants spotted grammatical errors in piees of prose. It was a fantastic program. I dream sometimes they have brought it back….

    “Around this time, when other girls of my age were attending the Isle of Wight Festival and having abortions, I bought a copy of Eric Partirdge’s Usage and Abusage and covered it in sticky-backed plastic so that it would last a lifetime (it has).”

    Cf.TypoBlog”: “I grew up in the hick province of New Brunswick. (Eastern Canada. Think Mississippi, but with coarse French accents.) While the other kids my age were out running the streets and sniffing glue, I sat at home memorizing the Letraset catalogue and counting the days until the next baffling issue of U&lc arrived in the mail.”

  4. p. 17: “And there is no editing on the internet!” Speak for yourself, honey. And the “Internet” is a place, hence capitalized. “[T]he inexorable advance of lower case into… everything on the non-case-sensitive [I]nternet”: You mean the case-insensitive Internet? Domain names are case-insensitive by spec. But filenames and paths are case-sensitive, as are an ever-rarer minority of E-mail userIDs.

Now an interesting meta-interlude: It occurred to me that my notetaking, done on second read of Eats, Shoots, is simply a waste of my time. I’m on hiatus from genuine new contributions in the review genre (viz. Ten Years Ago in Spy and most MoPix movie reviews), yet the horse had already reached full gallop here when I realized I’m not gonna get that time back. Even though I’ve done this sort of thing before, in this case nitpicking a book about nitpicking when I manifestly have other things to do seems an unwise use of my time.

Sorry, Lynne. Give us more when next you visit Toronto, select a less-pissy bookstore to do it in, and poll me for some intricacies of orthography in captioning and subtitling and maybe I’ll put some time in.

Some online publishing, it seems, is actually not worth it.

The foregoing posting appeared on Joe Clark’s personal Weblog on 2004.05.03 13:54. This presentation was designed for printing and omits components that make sense only onscreen. (If you are seeing this on a screen, then the page stylesheet was not loaded or not loaded properly.) The permanent link is:

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