kate5kiwis: punctilious pandamonium

kate5kiwis

“If you were all alone in the universe with no one to talk to, no one with which to share the beauty of the stars, to laugh with, to touch, what would be your purpose in life? It is other life, it is love, which gives your life meaning. This is harmony. We must discover the joy of each other, the joy of challenge, the joy of growth.” — Mitsugi Saotome

Monday, April 28, 2008

punctilious pandamonium


Meet my newfound kindred spirit, Lynne Truss. Over the last few days, my prominent proboscis has been firmly wedged in her hilariously supercilious book. Finally, I am breathing again. On the back cover of this gorgeous lemon-tinted treatise is a joke:
A panda walks into a café. He orders a sandwich, 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."

Ms. Truss begins her punctilious tirade on page 1 (if you skip the Acknowledgements, which I did), entreating the reader,
Either this will ring bells for you or it won't. A printed banner has appeared on the concourse of a petrol station near to where I live. "Come inside," it says, "for CD's, VIDEO's, DVD's, and BOOK's." If this satanic sprinkling of redundant apostrophes causes no little gasp of horror or quickening of the pulse, you should probably put down this book at once.
and proceeds to give advice on how to embrace one's Inner Stickler: skipping gaily through menus and shop-fronts armed with a big bottle of correction fluid, a red pen, and a tin of paint with a large brush.


I myself am an unabashed over-punctuator: liberally sprinkling commas, hyphens, dashes and parentheses throughout my emails and 'blogs. And (gasp!) I have a habit of starting my sentences with a conjunction. And seriously under-capitalising, especially the poor word "i", which I will not allow to grow up. I wonder what Freud would say? I prefer the excuse that I write as I speak - forgetting to take a breath at the ends of sentences, hence needing no capital at the beginning of the next - interjecting my thoughts with after-thoughts and helplessly blonde explanations.
It's "life on the fly", which is, essentially, how we roll.

After reading chapter two, I have taken heart about my adoration of commas. Truss recounts a lovely little vignette of a humorist (Thurber) and his editor (Ross) in the 1930s (no apostrophe needed),
... in the end Thurber simply had to resign himself to Ross's way of thinking. After all, he was the boss; he signed the cheques; and of course he was a brilliant editor, who endearingly admitted once in a letter to H. L. Mencken, "We have carried editing to a very high degree of fussiness here, probably to a point approaching the ultimate. I don't know how to get it under control." And so the comma proliferated.
T
hurber was once asked by a correspondent: "Why did you have a comma in the sentence, 'After dinner, the men went into the living room.'?" And his answer was probably one of the loveliest things ever said about punctuation. "This particular comma," Thurber explained, "was Ross's way of giving the men time to push back their chairs and stand up." (p. 69, 70)

Ah, that really resonates with me. I'm about half way through the book and am becoming more eduKATEd with each sentence. For example, I have been persuaded to place a second "s" after the apostrophe at the end of the possessive of proper names ending in "s", as in Truss's, right there. Traditionally, I have left the apostrophe dangling in mid-air. Such pedantry is perhaps enough to make one's eyes glaze over. Wait till I get going. Where was I? (guess the movie line)
There is just one final thing holding us back, then. It is that every man is his own stickler. And while I am very much in favour of forming an army of well-informed vigilantes, I can foresee problems getting everyone to pull in the same direction. There will be those, for example, who insist that the Oxford comma is an abomination (the second comma in "ham, eggs, and chips"), whereas others are unmoved by the Oxford comma but incensed by the trend towards under-hyphenation - which the Oxford comma people have possibly never even noticed. Yes, as Evelyn Waugh wrote: "Everyone has always regarded any usage but his own as either barbaric or pedantic." Or, as Kingsley Amis put it less delicately in his book The King's English (1997), the world of grammar is divided into "berks and wankers" - berks being those who are outrageously slipshod about language, and wankers those who are (in our view) abhorrently over-precise. (p. 30, 31)

It's enough to make one hesitant about blogging. Right then, book aside, I'm off to watch My Fair Lady (tonight's movie of choice) with the kiwi-kiddos, all of us giggling at Eliza's outrageous pronunciation of English vowels, and singing along with Professor Higgins as he explains:
The French never care what they do, actually,
as long as they pronounce it properly.
Arabians learn Arabian
with the speed of summer lightning.
And Hebrews learn it backwards,
which is absolutely frightening.
But use proper English -
you're regarded as a freak.

Uh yeah, we're fans of Shakespeare and the Von Trapp family too.
*raises eyebrow*
And so I say, with correction fluid firmly within my grasp:
Whether we call ourselves a commaphobe or a commaphiliac - let's punctuate! (yep, it's another quiz, lol)

7 Comments:

Blogger Reluctant Blogger said...

haha I loved that book too. I have a recording of the author reading it - and it is hilarious. I listen to it when cooking sometimes and the children always come and sit and listen too.

Hope you enjoyed the lovely Audrey!

1:20 AM  
Blogger Marie N. said...

Did you Dance All Night? That's one of my favorite songs from the musical. I am in love with all the hats in that film, especially at the races!

1:31 AM  
Blogger Barb the Evil Genius said...

I wanna say Princess Bride for the movie line. I love all the women's clothes in My Fair Lady.

6:58 AM  
Blogger Little Miss Flossy said...

"Yes. Australia. And you must have suspected I would have known the powder's origin..."

I took the quiz and got 100%. Does that make me a punctuation nerd? I blame my Form 1 & 2 teacher entirely, he drilled commas into us for two years. One of his favourite pastimes was reading us badly-written newspaper headlines and articles and then abusing the authors. Then he used to make us rewrite them in English. LOL That and 15 years of writing school reports for principals who always seemed to be English teachers ie punctuation Nazis. We even wrote a song one year for a staff only day about commas in school reports. TMI, I know...

10:32 AM  
Blogger LeighLeigh said...

I'm a little too nervous to write anything. I was going to guess the movie - but I can see that has been discovered quite nicely.
Still feeling sick...I sent Kim out to get me a pie yesterday - I was desperately craving one, but that has now passed!
Oh well. xx

2:31 PM  
Anonymous Embejo said...

Well, let me say that you threw me with this post... I couldn't quite believe it was yours. Firstly, it was long. Secondly, you used capitalisation and complete sentences. Don't do it again, Okay?
Just kidding of course... I'm off to do the quiz... and does the book say anything about all my little dots? You know.... these...?

8:52 PM  
Blogger kate5kiwis said...

r.b.
ah, yes, the delish Audrey!!!
but hey, you are Really An Addict then, *listening* to Truss... that is impressive!!! love it X

marie
yes, the hats are absolutely gorgy, we didn't dance, but we sang!!! X

b.t.e.g.
oui, it's The very predictable Princess Bride... and oui i agree, the clothes in My Fair Lady are fabulous, but i think it helps to look like Audrey lol X

l.m.f.
oh em gee we *are* kindred spirits!!! love your story about the Punctuation Driller. i get my Punctuation Fetish from my learned mother X

leigh
i'm not nervous. i'm just a little concerned, that's all...
yeah, it took me a few days to psych up to attempt writing about The Book lol
oh, i suggest you watch out for Chicken Pies, they were the cause of my twenty kilo weight gain while pregs with M6. i know, i am admitting *that* to the internet? X

e.
oh, sorry to shock you like that lol. yes, i am currently up to the chapter about semicolons, colons, the hyphen, the dash, (can't resist that Oxford Comma lol) and the ellipsis (...)
of which Truss says:
(the ellipsis) is turning up increasingly in emails as shorthand for "more to come actually... it might be related to what I've just written... but the main thing is I haven't finished... let's just wait and see... I could go on like this for hours..."
thankfully i do follow that convention at least, lol X

9:22 PM  

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