There are books that you know you’ll like, there are books you’re not sure about, and then there are books that you’re truly suspicious about. Now, when you come across a book with the subtitle “A zero tolerance approach to punctuation” I think it’s fair to immediately move towards the “whoa there nelly, what’s this?” side of the equation.
I am here to tell you that BOY HOWDY, THAT WOULD BE A MISTAKE!!!
This book is amazing. 100% first page to last page. That’s 204 pages of perfect, hilarious, informative, educational fun.
I can hear your skepticism, don’t worry. A book about punctuation, can it really be that good? Let me convince you:
Consider the difference between the following:
“Verily, I say unto thee, This day thou shalt be with me in Paradise.”
“Verily I say unto thee this day, Thou shalt be with me in Paradise.”
Now, huge doctrinal differences hang on the placing of this comma. The first version, which is how Protestants interpret the passage (Luke, xxiii, 43), lightly skips over the whole unpleasant business of Purgatory and takes the crucified thief straight to heaven with Our Lord. The second promises Paradise at some later date (to be confirmed, as it were) and leaves Purgatory nicely in the picture for the Catholics, who believe in it. Similarly, it is argued that the Authorised Version of the Bible (and by extension Handel’s Messiah) misleads on the true interpretation of Isaiah xl, 3. Once again consider the difference:
“The Voice of him that crieth in the wilderness: Prepare ye the way of the Lord.”
“The voice of him that crieth: In the wilderness prepare ye the way of the Lord”
“Comfort ye my people”
(Please go and comfort my people)
“Comfort ye, my people”
(Just cheer up you lot; it might never happen)
Of course, if Hebrew or any other ancient languages had included punctuation (in the case of Hebrew, a few vowels might have been nice as well), two thousand years of scriptural exegesis need never have occurred, and a lot of clever, dandruffy people could definitely have spent more time in the fresh air.
It goes on from there, and gets even better as we learn that indeed, not only did they fail to have punctuation, but that theyevenleftoutthespaces. (theybelieveddifficultyinreading (argh, I’ll stop!) encouraged healthy meditation and the glorification of God. Something about how your heart lifted in praise once you figured out what the heck you were looking at.
Now, given the quote there I really shouldn’t need to convince you any further. This is a book you should read. However I would like to continue to try and wax eloquent about just how much I think you should read it. Do you really know how to use a comma? I mean really know? How about actually using an ellipses correctly rather than just indicating that you’re trailing off… Do you avoid semicolons because you believe that they are “middle class” or perhaps dangerously addictive? This book will solve all those problems for you.
The best part however, is that you will laugh while you learn. Really laugh. Lynne Truss is an amazing writer, and really does give you the information in a way that will stick with you. This is not dry, this is not boring, and this is very educational. I was already one of those people hates seeing quotes on signs like:
“Drivers” turn off your engines
(No kidding, this is on a sign I walk by every day. If I only had some green paint…)
Having read this book however I now recognize that not only am I not alone, but there are many other horrible grammatical errors common to signs and headlines everywhere!
This book was loaned to me and I will now have to return it, however I may need to pick up my own copy! I will leave you with the following quote, which has a handwritten exclamation point from the gentleman who loaned it to me. I couldn’t agree more with that thought. I would’ve used a highlighter.
A woman, without her man, is nothing.
A woman: with her, man is nothing.