“Grammar books [are] read principally by keen foreigners; native speakers who require their help are the last people who will make the effort to buy and read them.” Hit and sunk.
Obviously, I am not a not a native English-speaker. I read all those improve your writing-style books; none of them for my own language. Most of my writings, nowadays, are in English anyway. However, some things seem to be more universal: “It’s tough being a stickler for punctuation these days.”
Only after I had read Lynne Truss’ Eats, Shoots and Leaves did I notice that this enjoyable little book on punctuation – it promises a zero tolerance approach and is not at all a grammar book – was an international best-seller. I got a first printing in a second hand bookstore in NYC. The best-seller status is well earned.
Here is finally a text that focuses on good writing at the figuratively truly atomic level of a text, it’s punctuation. Can you image a smaller unit of a text than, say, the comma? There is a lot of good advice and a bit of history on the apostrophe, the comma, the semicolon, and dashes to be found in this book. However, it was not the advise that made this book worthwhile to read. At least, it was not the main reason. Rather, it was the feeling that somehow I could relate to Lynne Truss’ quest. I cannot help but notice the Deppenapostroph everywhere (in Germany) around me. And, I always feel the urge to comment on it. It seems the same problem persists in the English speaking world.
Another parallel that I noticed is the apparent neglect of punctuation in curricula in Britain and Germany. I cannot remember to have had any classes on the finer art of good punctuation (neither in German nor in English). Quite the contrary, I remember that in English classes we were explicitly told to put a comma just where we thought (in the sense of a gut feeling) we should put one, or omit it. No one expected the rise of written self-expression back then. Thanks to the internet (and the text message), now, everyone’s a writer. Even those who cannot write due to their partial ignorance of grammar, punctuation and lack of an active vocabulary do write today. It becomes pitiable, when you observe the rise of blatant mistakes in professional texts (e.g., news paper headlines and articles, signs, …), too. We need more sticklers!
In the end, Truss’ advise was not without impact on me: I believe I began to use the semicolon more often now.