« Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue | Main | The Elements of Style turns Fifty »

April 11, 2009

The Comma Manifesto - Eats, Shoots & Leaves

"A panda goes into a café, orders a sandwich, eats it, takes out a revolver, fires it into the air, and goes out. When the waiter calls to ask what is going on, the panda plunks a badly punctuated wildlife manual onto the table and growls: "Look me up." ....

...The waiter finds the entry: "PANDA. Large, black-and-white, bear-like mammal native to China. Eats, shoots and leaves.""

Far from being a text on Pandas, Eats, Shoots & Leaves is a roaming, raving and sometimes ranting manifesto of comma violations across the English language - mostly from those who should know better. The author, Lynne Truss, also takes aim at the flagrant, inconsistent (and usually public) mis-use of apostrophes. She welcomes all of us to the Apostrophe Protection Society, a real organization that (along with Truss) is horrified by commercial signs that announce "Antique's" or "Apple's".

One of my personal favorites is the difference between - "Let's eat, mother" and "Let's eat mother".

It's all in the comma....

Or consider the classic romantic note below:

Dear John:
I want a man who knows what love is all about. You are generous, kind, thoughtful. People who are not like you admit to being useless and inferior. You have ruined me for other men. I yearn for you. I have no feelings whatsoever when we're apart. I can be forever happy--will you let me be yours?

As opposed to -

Dear John:
I want a man who knows what love is. All about you are generous, kind, thoughtful people, who are not like you. Admit to being useless and inferior. You have ruined me. For other men, I yearn. For you, I have no feelings whatsoever. When we're apart, I can be forever happy. Will you let me be?

Yes, it is all in those pesky little punctuation marks.

The current edition of Eats, Shoots & Leaves also includes an Emergency Punctuation Repair kit - stickers of commas and apostrophes to place over signs you might see. As Lynne Truss says - "Sticklers Unite!" It's available from Gotham Books (a division of Penguin Group).

For examples of mangled English not necessarily related to punctuation, check out http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-497544/Chinglish-Hilarious-examples-signs-lost-translation.html or http://fun-in-language.blogspot.com/2007/11/hilarious-chinglish-signs.html

Got any stories of mangled English? Send them in!

My best to you,


Listen, read and speak. Make your new language your own.

About the author of this entry:

Morf has a B.A.from the Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington and an MAT (Master's in Teaching English) from the University of Washington (Seattle). Morf spent about six years working for a Native American Tribal College, a few years teaching various humanities, English, writing and ESL courses with the community college system in Washington State (including one year as part of a faculty exchange program with The Beijing Foreign Language University). While in China, Morf was briefly a radio host for CRI (China Radio International) and did recordings for the "English can be enjoyable" book and tape series. Morf currently teaches English and writing for a local technical/vocational college with many international students. Morf prefers international and independent films, foods he can't pronounce, music no one else likes and riding his bicycle in unlikely and ridiculous situations.

Posted by mmorf at April 11, 2009 06:08 PM

Trackback Pings

TrackBack URL for this entry:


Incorrect punctuation is so prevalent, like atop a giant WalMart sign that invites shoppers to take "percent's off." It's never a problem to find examples to use with my students. They've become quite adept at finding such glaring errors in advertising. How many ways did we see "Presidents' Day Sale?" I got dizzy with all the variations, from "President's Day Sale" to "Presidents's Day Sale." My students will never misuse the apostrophe because I've taught them why it's used. Karen.

Posted by: Karen Taylor at April 26, 2009 11:20 AM

My favorite example is:

A woman without her man is nothing.
A woman, without her, man is nothing.

Posted by: Chip at April 27, 2009 08:42 AM

I, like, feel,... this is good.

Do you mean to say?

I think that you think and write clearly.

It's not only correct punctuation, but also sentences that are clear and concise.Random jargon may seem "hip" and "cool".

Posted by: Ian Mason at May 26, 2009 03:10 AM

The campaign for correct use of apostrophes has been one close to my heart for a great many years.

At school it was clearly a concern of my english teacher, who, in the days when it was still fairly common to have sex segregation in school (That dates me!), would draw a school gate over which was written:

"Well do they?", he would ask.

As the first one in the class to get it, and reply,"Well some of them do.", I was clearly marked out to be fussing with apostrophes for the rest of my life.

I loved the panda story with commas though, and indeed Karen Taylor's example too.

Posted by: Pete Forrest at May 26, 2009 05:12 AM

Post a comment

Remember Me?

(you may use HTML tags for style)