I visited my parents’ house a few weeks ago and smashed my toe on a piece of furniture. I really crunched it and pretty much broke my little toe. I’m not much of a complainer when infirm and it was fairly painful to walk on, even after I taped it up, so I basically tried to sit quietly as much as possible.
Looking on their coffee table, I noticed a thin book that looked interesting, entitled “Eats, Shoots & Leaves” by Lynne Truss. The book starts out with a joke:
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 makes towards the exit. 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.”
I was hooked immediately, because I’m a bit of a punctuation stickler. Bad writing drives me crazy. Bad punctuation makes me homicidal. One of my biggest pet peeves is the contraction of the word “little.” Most often you see it as Lil’. Now ask yourself: What word is being contracted here? Lily? Lillith? Lilliput? The right way – wait, let me re-phrase that – the only way to contract little is to write it as li’l. Lil’ Kim, Lil’ Bush, Lil’ Bow Wow? You’re officially on notice.
I’m no expert, but I do try to correctly make use of punctuation and grammar as much as possible. I make mistakes all the time, and I’m always happy to stand corrected (as Francine the Flower Child once told me, “Mistakes are lessons to be learned; you’ll keep making the same mistakes until you learn that lesson”). Punctuation, grammar and spelling are not just for snobs and smartasses. They’re the means by which we communicate clearly and effectively. For too long, we’ve allowed our culture to devolve into a celebration of ignorance and mediocrity. Lynne Truss has struck a blow for humanity, and I encourage everyone who reads this to pick up a copy, read it over and do your small part to save civilization from the barbarians. It’s also funny and the covers aren’t too far apart.
In the 1920s, a company called Burma Shave — producers of brushless shaving cream — started putting signs up that delighted and educated drivers. These