Eats, Shoots & Leaves

I appear to have several people in my life (Amy Batchelor, Dave Jilk, Chris Wand, and Steve Bayle) who view correcting my grammar, spelling, punctuation, and word usage as part of their role on this planet. I did not ask for this; however, I tolerate it because they have other useful traits (Amy just looked over my shoulder and said, “Great use of the semicolon; hot!”)

In an attempt to lower their workload, I read Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation. I learned a lot which will hopefully be reflected in my future punctuation efforts. Unfortunately, the author is a brit so you might get some foreign usage.

This book is a ton of fun and a must read for anyone that writes anything (including text messages). One of my chronic problems is the placement of punctuation when quotes are involved. Truss, the author, has a good section on this where she enumerates the rules (with examples – although I’ll just give you the rules so I don’t spoil the book for you.)

  1. When a piece of dialogue is attributed at its end, conclude it with a comma inside the inverted commas.
  2. When the dialogue is attributed at the start, conclude with a full stop inside the inverted commas.
  3. When the dialogue stands on its own, the full stop comes inside the inverted commas.
  4. When only a fragment of speech is being quoted, put punctuation outside the inverted commas.
  5. When the quotation is a question or exclamation, the terminal marks come inside the inverted commas.
  6. When the question is posed by the sentence rather than by the speaker, logic demands that the question mark goes outside the inverted commas.
  7. Where the quoted speech is a full sentence requiring a full stop (or other terminal mark) of its own, and coincidentally comes at the end of the containing sentence, the mark inside the inverted commas serves for both.

For the Americans in the crowd, a full stop is the same as a period and inverted commas are the same as quotation marks. Oh – and Truss graciously says something to the effect of “none of this applies in America since American grammarians insist that, if a sentence ends with a phrase in inverted commas, all the terminal punctuation for the sentence must come tidily inside the speech marks, even when this doesn’t seem to make sense.” If you’ve followed all of this, now you understand why Her Majesty’s Kingdom lost the Revolutionary War.

Does this remind you of the interminably long hour a day of ninth grade honors English you had to endure from Mrs. Dowdywonker? I’ve decided on a new rule which is “do whatever the hell you want with the punctuation near ending inverted commas!”

  • Dave Jilk

    First, it has been many years since I corrected your grammar or punctuation for any reason other than (a) it significantly changed the meaning of what you were saying (my favorite example: when you used “duplicitous” (dishonest) instead of “duplicative” (redundant)), (b) you were going to distribute a writing and some element made you look ignert (Southern for “ignorant”).

    Second, you have become much better over the years all on your own. I think this is mostly because you care more about such things than you used to. I really enjoy reading what you write.

  • Hey,Dude, Its “anyone who”, not “anyone that.” Couldn’t resist. I’ll let the group do the correcting. That book is on my list. It sounded like a must read. If only I read as fast as you. Currently working my way through Peter Jenkins “Looking for Alaska” in prepartation for our trip. Why would anyone go on bear “looking” trips when they seem to wander into every town in Alaska???

  • Steve Bergstein

    While I don’t view correcting *your* grammar as any part of my function in the world, I do have a thing for proper grammar, usage and punctuation, in general.

    The world would be a better place if people would punctuate and proof-read what they write.

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