Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Perfecting my punctuation

I have to admit to being something of a punctuation bore. I tut when I see a misused apostrophe or hyphen, I like to use colons and semicolons and yes, I punctuate my text messages. I know that there are many fellow sufferers out there, risking stomach ulcers and anxiety attacks on every trip to the local shopping centre. I bet we each own a copy of Lynne Truss's Eats, Shoots and Leaves and I also bet that most of us are past the first flush of youth, having benefited from a good grounding in English grammar at school.

While this is a subject very close to my heart, I have resisted writing about it for fear of making some glaring error and having ridicule heaped upon me by my discerning readers! I know that I don't know everything but I don't know what I don't know. However, I have just received a book to review that is about to change all that and I wish I could afford to buy a copy for everyone who loves the English language.

Can You Eat, Shoot and Leave? by Clare Dignall is a must-have book for everyone: from the reader or writer with a good grasp of punctuation to the poor soul who went to school in the last twenty years and has never heard of it.  It is as entertaining as it is informative and is available from Amazon.

There is a brilliantly funny foreword by Lynn Truss and then the book begins with a light-hearted quiz to establish the reader's level of competence in matters of punctuation. I turned out to be someone with a  grasp of how punctuation works but with a few obsessive tendencies. There does, however, appear to be hope for me if I persevere with the exercises. 

Each chapter deals with a specific point: the apostrophe, the comma, the colon and semicolon; then on to expressive marks - the exclamation mark, question mark, quotation marks, italics, dashes, brackets and the ellipsis - and, finally, the hyphen. Everything is presented in a clear and simple way with lots of humour.  Michael Gove could improve education standards overnight by appointing Clare Dignall as chief advisor to schools! 

I didn't make 100% in the exercises but I learned quite a lot, including some interesting differences between punctuation in UK English and US English. I haven't mastered all my new-found knowledge yet but I have my copy of Can You Eat, Shoot and Leave? right here beside my laptop and it will soon be well-thumbed. I see it is advertised as a Workbook, meaning that we are expected to write in it but that would upset my equilibrium too much! 

Watch out! The Panda could be heading your way to give you a punctuation workout.


  1. You only tut? No eye roll? Amazing self control!

  2. e, my "tut" is more like an explosion! No self control at all.


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