My library’s recent book fair was the hottest ticket in town. Book nerds within a 25-mile radius lined up outside before the doors opened to get first crack at the thousands of used paperbacks and hardbacks inside.
Schlepping wagons, suitcases and cardboard boxes, they ran – not walked – hoping for hidden treasures at cheap prices. Seeing the size of the literature section gave me hope for finding “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “Of Mice and Men,” but surprisingly, I came up empty.
Moving on to the “writing” pile, I dove in and waded through castoff dictionaries, outdated writing guides and faded copies of The Chicago Manual of Style. My only competition was a bearded, backpack-toting hipster who seemed to have little interest in anything published after 1980.
Buried at the bottom was “Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation” by Lynne Truss. I vaguely remember reading this when it was published in 2003. At $2, it seemed like a bargain, so I snatched it up. Truss, a former sports columnist for the London Times, bemoans the sorry state of punctuation.
“The disappearance of punctuation (including word spacing, capital letters, and so on) indicates an enormous shift in our attitude to the written word, and nobody knows where it will end,” she wrote.
It’s too bad Truss ignores punctuation rules in this sentence and throughout the rest of the book, because she makes an excellent point. Twitter and Facebook were mere specks in the eye when she wrote “Eats, Shoots & Leaves,” and texting was in its infancy. Grammar and punctuation are afterthoughts in the “C U later” era.
“It’s tough being a stickler for punctuation these days,” Truss wrote. “One almost dare not get up in the mornings.”
Disregard for punctuation and grammar isn’t new. Acclaimed writers such as Jack Kerouac and e.e. cummings threw out the rule book and still did just fine. So why shouldn’t punctuation be an afterthought?
The answer is simple. To convey meaning accurately, we frame language according to accepted grammar rules. Words without punctuation defy clear thinking. Punctuation is like the icing on the cake of good writing.
“Who wants a blank map for heaven’s sake?” Truss wrote. “There is more at stake than the way people read and write.”
Punctuation vigilantes unite. We’re in this together.
“Maybe we won’t change the world, but at least we’ll feel better,” Truss concludes.
Want to brush up on your punctuation? Check out these top references.