Not clever, not funny: a review of Eats, Shoots & Leaves



Thought I’d start the New Year by collating a series of wry (and slightly patronising) observations on the English language, in the style of Lynne Truss and her seminal work, Eats, Shoots & Leaves.

In the book – subtitled ‘The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation’ – you will discover that the British public are essentially a breed of moronic, grunting oafs, barely able to form a coherent sentence.

But, surely, this is only half the story.

Considering the massive popularity of Eats, Shoots & Leaves, the British public must also be a bunch of university-educated pedantic bores, happy to sneer at the rest of the population for misplacing a few apostrophes.

According to the book’s back page blurb, Truss sees ‘ignorance and indifference everywhere’. (Not just at her book launches then?) And, thus, she has set herself up as English grammar’s defender – sending a rallying cry to others to be ‘sticklers’ too!

“Its Summer!” says a sign that cries out for an apostrophe. “ANTIQUE,S,” says another, bizarrely. “Pansy’s ready”, we learn to our considerable interest (“Is she?”), as we browse among the bedding plants.

Don’t worry, gentle reader, the sign didn’t really cry out for an apostrophe. Truss has deployed what we in the business call ‘personification’. It’s a clever, linguistic device used by clever, linguistic people writing prose to give inanimate things life. You probably wouldn’t understand. But Lynne Truss is clever. She’s done an English degree and everything.

In a fairly hectoring tone, the assault on the British worker continues, with Truss bemoaning instances in which she has apparently spied a shop sign, a greengrocer’s board and a notice in a garage forecourt, all displaying some matter of minor grammatical incompetence.

Surely, most people who go to a garage probably want to get their car fixed – something they are unable to do themselves. Knowing where to put a possessive apostrophe won’t really help them. And that feeling of smug superiority – that often comes from reading a poorly-written sign in a garage forecourt – is likely to be lost when they then have to turn to the same mechanic and ask for his help – and, later, pay him.

In Eats, Shoots & Leaves, Lynne Truss seems to forget that other people have different values, ideas and motivations to her – something that is made very clear in the section of the book in which she discusses the terrorist attack on the Twin Towers.

Whilst the rest of the world was horrified by the footage of aeroplanes crashing into the Towers and the indiscriminate loss of innocent lives, Truss and her band of grammar twats were getting worked up “because people on the radio were saying ‘enormity’ when they meant ‘magnitude’.”

Yes, of course, well done, that was the thing to get upset about…

As we all know, being good at English is not something that one can acquire through practice or learning. It is more like a gift from the Gods. As such, earning a living writing stuff (as many of my poorest friends will attest) is simply ineffably better than doing something practical, like fixing cars. Sure, the money is bad and the job’s probably just as dull and repetitive, but, at least, if you’re like Lynne Truss, you can wallow in the satisfaction that comes from knowing that you’re a self-congratulatory dullard that thinks that human beings should be resigned to some lower-order if they incorrectly use a comma.

After a while, the whole carping, supercilious tone of Eats, Shoots & Leaves just puts the reader in mind of that episode of I’m Alan Partridge in which he chastises a sales assistant from Currys for not having a basic grasp of Latin. And, like Partridge, in all Truss’ anecdotes (needless to say) she has the last laugh…

Anyway, in an attempt to woo the 50% of the British public that can actually read (and apparently love this sort of thing), I’m going to try my hand.  Please bear with me.


I walked by a French sandwich shop on Canterbury High Street earlier and saw that on the blackboard outside they had misspelt ‘salads’ as ‘salades’. Idiots.

Happy New Year. One and all.

(For a list of grammatical errors in Eats, Shoots & Leaves, read Louis Menand’s review of the book in The New Yorker.)


~ by wordwrites on January 20, 2011.

2 Responses to “Not clever, not funny: a review of Eats, Shoots & Leaves”

  1. she’s a wanker. That’s all we know, that’s all we know.

  2. I think that might be what writers call ‘fair comment’.

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