Thursday 21 February 2008

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.
“I thought at first somebody was complaining,” he said. (link thanks to Bob Morales)
At the foot of the article on the following day, its author adds a correction:
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 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."
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..."
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'".



Blogger spacedlaw said...

That had me spraying my keyboard with tea.
Good thing you explained that rooting thing; who would have guessed?

22 February 2008 at 01:49:00 GMT-5  
Blogger mlvanbie said...

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22 February 2008 at 03:54:00 GMT-5  
Blogger mlvanbie said...

The koala version goes back to at least 2003 (and called old, then). You're the top Google result for the joke, but there's only one page. The panda version is well-known outside of Australia.

22 February 2008 at 03:57:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Eddie Campbell said...

I heard it in 1983 on my first visit to Australia from my soon to be brother-in-law who was in the army at that time, and it wasn't considered a new joke then. ( I can remember telling people whom I haven't seen since the early '80s).

That's twenty five years ago.

Google is about ten years old.


22 February 2008 at 05:01:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Eddie Campbell said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

22 February 2008 at 05:48:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Eddie Campbell said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

22 February 2008 at 06:16:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Eddie Campbell said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

22 February 2008 at 06:27:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Eddie Campbell said...

(I dismantled the panda joke to demonstrate how foolish it is then realized how absurd it is to dismantle a joke)

22 February 2008 at 08:17:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Hayley Campbell said...

He who breaks a thing to find out how it works has left the path of wisdom.

22 February 2008 at 10:46:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Hayley Campbell said...

The above being a misquotation of Gandalf, of course.

22 February 2008 at 10:47:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Colman G said...

I can provide a "missing link" between the two instances of the bear story.

In a factory in Cork, in the early 90s, the fella next to me on the assembly line told me the blue version of the joke ­-- but he used a panda and the "eats shoots and leaves" punchline.

That "shoots" pun feels awkward; it makes sense to me that the Australian joke was the original, and then someone attempted to adapt the gag for an international audience by introducing the Panda.

...In the late 90s, I came across the story again, this time in an Ursula LeGuin book, Steering the Craft. LeGuin was using the Panda, but the gag was now "clean" and had the bear firing a gun at people in a cafe. She used the joke to wrap up a chapter on punctuation.

My guess is that the bowlderization was LeGuin's, and that Truss nicked the idea from her.

Evolution of a species: Blue Koala becomes Blue Panda becomes Pedagogical Panda.

"Pedagogical Panda"...that could be the name of a character in a very bad children's TV show.

22 February 2008 at 13:35:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Aaron White said...

The version I first heard was about a koala that eats bushes and leaves.

22 February 2008 at 15:34:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Eddie Campbell said...

Colman G.
that does prove my suspicion that the bowdlerization would have to have originated in the USA. (sex is not allowed in the punchline of a joke, but firarms are acceptable)

not familiar with bush as a verb, so this gave me a chuckle:

Subject: New word

bush, verb:
1) to avoid responsibility, to willingly choose not to participate, i.e., I "bushed" the last presidential election, but this yearI intend to vote. I promise not to "bush" you Saturday morning; I will be there on time.
2) absent without permission, i.e., When my in-laws come by to visit I "bush" them by sneaking out the back door.
3) to lie even in the face of proven facts, i.e., We all saw him steal the money, but when confronted, he "bushed" us and said he was innocent.

22 February 2008 at 16:08:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Aaron White said...

Bush is a noun in my version: the koala eats a woman's bush, bush referring to pubic hair and associated parts.

I hope I don't get fired for posting this bawdy information from work.

And yes, in the states we have a bizarre attitude towards sex and gunfire. If I were a willful crackpot I'd advance a theory about government-funded abstainence-only sex ed being responsible for the recent fad of school shootings, But Columbine precedes the Bush administration... another cod theory ruined.

22 February 2008 at 16:56:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Eddie Campbell said...

he's a dirty bugger, that koala.

22 February 2008 at 17:03:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Hayley Campbell said...

a dirty bugger he may be, a bear he ain't.

22 February 2008 at 17:06:00 GMT-5  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

When I was at school in the UK, probably going back to about 1982 or 83, we had the panda eating dinner, shagging a bird, (shoots his load) and then leaving. How that fits into who told what first I don't know, but I remembering laughing.

23 February 2008 at 12:48:00 GMT-5  

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