Saturday, April 24, 2004

Eats, shoots and never leaves my blog

OK, OK, one more mention of Lynne Truss' book. Then I promise ... that there will probably be more. C'mon, guys, it's an editing blog.

This link is to another story in the New York Times, written by author Edmund Morris. The lead brought a smile to my face:
A Manhattan real estate broker has just notified me, on heavy stationery, that ''the New York market is remaining vibrant with the goal of buying a home being a principle interest for purchaser's to either upscale or downscale their homes.''

Syntactical incoherence aside, it is difficult to say what is most annoying about this sentence: the dropped comma, the misspelled adjective, the superfluous apostrophe, the split infinitive, the grating use (twice) of ''home'' as a commercial noun. I am tempted to reply, ''It is against my principal's to consider such illiterate letter's,'' but doubt that the sarcasm would register. As the journalist Lynne Truss notes in ''Eats, Shoots & Leaves,'' her forcedly jovial punctuation primer, ''the world cares nothing for the little shocks endured by the sensitive stickler.''
This is a different review, however. Morris is not thrilled with this book. For example, after Truss apologizes for calling apostrophes punctuation's fairies: "I'm sorry about the fairies, too, but I'm sorrier about her prose style, which is cloying even if you know where Minehead is, and have a stomach for mixed metaphor."

Morris mixes in some examples of greats who have broken the rules to great effect.
Truss errs in saying that P. G. Wodehouse eschews the semicolon, but I can see why she thinks so. He uses it, on average, once a page, usually in a long sentence of mounting funniness, so that its luftpause, that tiny intake of breath, will puff the subsequent comma clauses along, until the last of them lands with thistledown grace. By then you're laughing so much, you're not even aware of the art behind the art.
He even lets a few compliments slip through -- but not many.
Her scholarship is impressive and never dry. I didn't know, for example, that ''dash'' derives from the Middle English dasshen, ''to break.'' But she's a few years off in ascribing the first use of direct-speech quotation marks to ''someone'' in 1714. Daniel Defoe splattered them all over his ''True Relation of the Apparition of One Mrs. Veal'' in 1706.
This review is a different take on a book many of us will read (if the bookstore ever restocks it).

But some editors (ahem) may be glad to know that reviewers can look at this book with a critical eye.


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