Grammar and punctuation for the holidays

Oliver Pritchett reviewed Lynne Truss’ Eats, Shoots and Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation for the Telegraph last week, saying:

I have always had a great affection for the semicolon; it has a certain discreet charm. On the other hand, there is just one word to describe the colon: bossy. A colon says: “Pay attention, this next bit is really important.” If the colon is a fanfare, the semicolon is more like a polite cough. It is a nasty shock to discover that it has enemies. Gertrude Stein, who might, in her time, have been considered a bit of a bossyboots herself, suggested that semicolons were simply commas with pretensions.

Kurt Vonnegut recently revealed his loathing for the semicolon, cautioning would-be writers to avoid it at all costs. He called semicolons “hermaphrodite transvestites,”* saying that they serve no purpose. “The only reason to use one is to show you’ve been to college,” he reportedly said.

C’mon, now. While I defer to Mr. Vonnegut on many things, the semicolon is useful; it simultaneously connects and separates related thoughts, handily confusing your reader.

Anyhow, according to David Smith, people are buying Truss’ grammar guide “for themselves or to give it to anyone they know who’s pedantic.”

So at least now you know what to buy me for Christmas. (Sadly, I’m entirely serious. Any book that debates the finer points of semicolon usage is right up my alley.)

At the Guardian, Nicholas Lezard suggests a different book to pad out Christmas lists: This Diary Will Change Your Life, by Ben Carey and Henrik Delehag. Says Lezard:

Diaries rarely make interesting Christmas presents, but you might want to try this one. Its novelty lies in the fact that it tells you what you are going to do every day next year. Examples, more or less at random: on Thursday April 29, go without your sense of hearing. (You will have already gone without your sight on Friday February 20.) Thursday February 26: “Try food that scares you.” (Suggestions range from haggis to tiger testicles.)….

Embittered pedant that I am, I daresay this book would hold my interest for about ten seconds before I stacked it in my closet atop the copy of The Artist’s Way that a friend insisted a borrow (“no really,” she said, drunk at her holiday party two years ago, “you have to read it. It cures everybody’s writer’s block!”) and the fourteen yoga videos friends gave me to help me learn to relax.

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