Book of the Month: Eats, Shoots and Leaves (2003) by Lynne Truss

Struggling with grammar? Do you know the difference between present and third person indicative’?

Anyone who has watched Monty Python’s The Life of Brian (1979) may know the reference. The brilliant sketch (Romanes Eunt Domus) between a pedantic Roman soldier (John Cleese) and the luckless Brian (Graham Chapman), when Brian is reprimanded after daubing Latin graffiti on a Jerusalem wall, acknowledges the baffling and occasionally obsessive idiosyncracies of proper grammar. Fortunately the surprise bestseller Eats, Shoots & Leaves (2003) by Lynne Truss humorously covers grammar, a subject typically described as the driest place on earth. In Truss’s (2003: 47) efforts to salvage the apostrophe from the dustbin of history she refers to the late, great Keith Waterhouse’s Association for the Abolition of the Aberrant Apostrophe in the Daily Mirror and Daily Mail, printing ‘hundreds of examples of apostrophe horrors, my all-time favourite being the rather subtle, “Prudential – were here to help you”, which looks a bit unsettling until you realise that what it’s supposed to say is, “Prudential – we’re here to help you”.  I found the chapter on ‘The Tractable Apostrophe’ most useful; it was good to refresh my memory, particularly when advising students on grammar as part of Learning Development. The book is available at 421.1 tru on the first floor of the University Library, with plenty of copies furnishing the shelves.

For more definitive guides on English usage, refer to Fowler’s Modern English book, or the useful A Student’s Grammar of the English Language, both stocked in the Library.

Q. What should Brian have written on the wall, instead of Romanes Eunt Domus?

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