Good English, bad English; again.
Halfway through the following item in which a semicolon makes the news I had to check the top of the page to remind myself I wasn't reading The Onion:
Celebrating the Semicolon in a Most Unlikely Location - NY Times-February 18, 2008
It was nearly hidden on a New York City Transit public service placard exhorting subway riders not to leave their newspaper behind when they get off the train. “Please put it in a trash can,” riders are reminded. After which Neil Neches, an erudite writer in the transit agency’s marketing and service information department, inserted a semicolon. The rest of the sentence reads, “that’s good news for everyone.” Semicolon sightings in the city are unusual, period, much less in exhortations drafted by committees of civil servants. In literature and journalism, not to mention in advertising, the semicolon has been largely jettisoned as a pretentious anachronism. But, whatever one’s personal feelings about semicolons, some people don’t use them because they never learned how. In fact, when Mr. Neches was informed by a supervisor that a reporter was inquiring about who was responsible for the semicolon, he was concerned.At the foot of the article on the following day, its author adds a correction:
“I thought at first somebody was complaining,” he said. (link thanks to Bob Morales)
Correction: February 19, 2008
An article in some editions on Monday about a New York City Transit employee’s deft use of the semicolon in a public service placard was less deft in its punctuation of the title of a book by Lynne Truss, who called the placard a “lovely example” of proper punctuation. The title of the book is “Eats, Shoots & Leaves” — not “Eats Shoots & Leaves.” (The subtitle of Ms. Truss’s book is “The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation.”)I'm not familiar with Truss's book, though upon rummaging around in her website I would say we are siblings-in -arms: "Whether it’s merely a question of advancing years bringing greater intolerance I don’t think I shall bother to establish" (that's from the intro to her treatise on the decline of manners, Speak to the Hand). In investigating 'Eats, Shoots...' a title which bothers me for reasons I'll get to in a minute, I found myself reading this piece from a year ago at Language Log:
A zero tolerance approach to parody- February 14, 2007
Jan Freeman takes note of a recent article in The Independent about the latest bee in Lynne Truss's bonnet: parodies of her best-selling book, Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation. In an outspoken attack on the wave of imitators who have spoofed the book's quirky title and cover design, Ms Truss said she did not know how publishers of such imitations "live with themselves".The problem I have with Truss's title is that you need to tell an absurd story in order to explain it. it begins like this: "A panda walks into a café. He orders a sandwich, eats it, then draws a gun and proceeds to fire it at the other patrons..."
The titles that are irking Truss include Dr Whom: E.T. Shoots and Leaves: A Zero Tolerance Approach to Parodication and Eats, Shites & Leaves: Crap English and How to Use It...and The Fight for English: How Language Pundits Ate, Shot, and Left... That (last) is no spoof (besides the subtitle), but rather a serious critique of the "linguistic fundamentalism" encapsulated in Truss's "zero-tolerance approach."
I read that "The book was a huge commercial success. In 2004, the U.S. edition became a New York Times bestseller. Contrary to usual publishing convention, the U.S. edition of the book left the original British conventions intact."
However, observe that the success of the wording of the title is due to the fact that sex has been replaced with an animal killing people with a gun. What I believe is the orginal and better version of the joke belongs to Australia, and uses the word 'roots,' a thing that is more natural to animals: 'The koala eats, roots and leaves." But then I guess for anybody outside of Australia, instead of a story you would need to supply a dictionary definition:
Root (verb and noun) : synonym for f*ck in nearly all its senses: "I feel rooted"; "this washing machine is rooted"; "(s)he's a good root". A very useful word in fairly polite company.
Ah, you thinks to yourself, "now I understand why the laff went round the room when Dame Edna Everage announced she was going 'back to her roots'".
Labels: the bloody English language