If there is one book on punctuation I’d recommend to everyone, it’s “Eats shoots and leaves” by Lynne Truss. In this book, Lynne Truss has dealt with all matters related to punctuation in a humorous and engaging fashion. This not only removes the “boring” tag associated with the subject of punctuation, but also gets people involved in punctuating well.
The very title of the book is derived from a famous joke, which has done its rounds all over the world. In case you haven’t heard it, here goes…
A panda walks into a café. He orders a sandwich, eats it, then draws a gun and fires two shots in the air.
“Why?” asks the confused waiter as the panda leaves the café. The panda produces a badly punctuated wildlife manual and tosses it over his shoulder.
“I’m a panda,” he says, at the door. “Look it up”.
The waiter turns to the relevant entry and, sure enough, finds an explanation.
“Panda: Large black-and-white bear-like mammal, native to China. Eats, shoots and leaves.”
In case you are still wondering what that meant…the trick is in the comma placed after “Eats” in “Eats, shoots and leaves.” This comma implies that someone eats something, shoots, and then leaves the scene. The correct entry, of course, would be “Eats shoots and leaves” minus the comma after “Eats” to imply eating shoots ( as in bamboo shoots) and leaves( of plants and trees).
Now that I have killed the punchline and demystified the joke completely, wouldn’t you agree that a misplaced comma can totally change the meaning of a sentence or a phrase?
By giving real-life examples from badly written street signs (Come inside for CD’s, VIDEO’s, DVD’s, and BOOK’s) to improperly punctuated movie titles( Two weeks notice), this book is a ready reckoner for people with a sense of humor. She covers apostrophes, commas, dashes, hyphens, and even emoticons (keeping in mind the Instant Messaging era).
I just noticed one glaring (at least to an ex-editor) error, though. The title page of the book says “The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation”. If she had read her own chapter on hyphens, that should have been “The Zero-Tolerance Approach to Punctuation”.
That shouldn’t stop you from reading the book, though 🙂