Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Sound and Sense

Went to the BYU forum assembly today to hear Lynne Truss, author of Eats, Shoots and Leaves: The Zero-Tolerance Approach to Punctuation. She freely acknowledges herself to be both a "stickler" and a "grouch," and she recognizes the merits of the "get a life" approach to punctuation...but she maintains that it is the responsibility of a writer to respect the "sound and sense" of language, rather than writing any old thing and expecting the audience to catch the gist.

Ms. Truss has a real gift for hilariously illustrating the importance of proper punctuation. Take, for example, these two sentences:
The defendant said his barrister has a history of drug use.
The defendant, said his barrister, has a history of drug use.

She also mused on whether the "slow children" on road signs eventually grow up to become "slow men working."

And you can draw your own illustrations for these two sentences:
Look! It's behind.
Look: its behind.

My husband and I are already firmly in the stickler camp, but I sure hoped at least one eager freshman got excited to go and sin no more against the rules of English punctuation.
Lee Ann Setzer's blog about books, writing, and life in general.