Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Eats, Shoots, + Leaves

Because the following post is rather boring, I'll begin with a witty (and rather appropriate) joke:
A panda walks into a cafe. He orders a sandwich, eats it, then draws a gun and fires two shots in the air.
"Why?" asks the confused waiter, as the panda makes towards the exit. The panda produces a badly punctuated wildlife manual and tosses it over his shoulder.
"I'm a panda," he says at the door. "Look it up."
The waiter turns to the relevant entry and, sure enough, finds an explanation.
"Panda. Large black-and-white bear-like mammal, native to China. Eats, shoots and leaves."

It all started a few weeks ago when Nate and I decided to go get Orem library cards. I had been wanting to read A Tale of Two Cities (my favorite) again, but I didn't want to buy it since I have a copy at home already all marked up. So we went to the library and I was actually happy to find that most of the copies had been checked out (that means there are actually people out there reading books besides Twilight), so I had to get the large print edition of A Tale of Two Cities. It was serendipitous because I have ended up loving the large print for when I read late at night! Well I was amazed that I was leaving the library with only one book... and that's when I saw it: Eats, Shoots & Leaves. I immediately told Nate how badly I had been wanting to read this book. He asked me where I even hear about books like this. Haha...yep: it's a book about punctuation. However, it's also a #1 New York Times Bestseller. So I quickly grabbed it before another grammarian could steal it from me, and we left the library.

Fast forward to a week later: I'm on the BYU website and it has the forum speaker for this week. I recognize the name immediately: Lynne Truss, author of Eats, Shoots & Leaves. One of the perks of my job is that I don't really have a schedule so I'm free to attend this amazing lecture-- and it was amazing! She's British so of course everything she said was instantly more clever, more intelligent, and more fascinating than anything us Americans could say. I wondered what the other students were thinking when she spoke for close to an hour on the importance of the apostrophe, but I ate it all up! One of my favorite lines was when she was discussing how the UK stopped teaching grammar in the 1960s because they believed it was too difficult. "An interesting approach to education," she commented. Ha!

She calls herself a punctuation vigilante. I support her cause. It's true that so many people believe that punctuation is antiquated. People view punctuation as the enemy when really it was developed as an aid to clarify our use of the English language. Part of me wanted to write this entire post without any punctuation and see how many people made it through my words. It probably wouldn't stop most of us blog stalkers :)

Of course I sympathized with Lynne when she spoke of people being afraid to write or speak around her. The moment I mention I'm an English major or an editor, people close up. I actually have friends who are afraid to text me! It's as if I somehow conjure up ideas of elementary school English teachers and papers marked up with red pen. I don't correct grammar in my head as people are speaking, and I definitely never tell someone something they say is incorrect. However, I think Lynne eloquently explained OUR feelings on the subject of understanding punctuation: "It doesn't make you intolerant; it simply makes you sad. You see the gap between what someone says and what they meant to say." That is what punctuation (used correctly) does: it fills the gap between what someone says and what someone means. The rules of grammar are fairly simple and easy to learn, but our society doesn't seem to reward, and at times even mocks, the use of good grammar.

I even admit to not wanting to use perfect grammar on my blog posts because I don't want to seem pretentious. However, Lynne (I love how I refer to her on a first name basis-- that's how close I felt to this woman after hearing her remarks) explained that the internet has created a whole new world in terms of written language. It takes no credentials, or even talent for that matter, to publish your thoughts on the World Wide Web. AND so much of what we read these days is from our very own computer screen. As a result, this has changed the way we read. No longer do we begin in the upper left-hand corner and continue to the bottom right-hand corner before turning a page. Instead, we skim and click. This has completely changed the way we process information. Several of you are probably complaining about how long this post is, huh? We are no longer accustomed to lengthy writing. Lynne said we shouldn't just settle for the "gist" of something. We should take the time to communicate effectively. Thus, merely in an effort to ensure that my children have the ability to read and comprehend the lengthy pages of Dickens, I think I'll try a little harder to use correct spelling in my text messages and punctuate my emails correctly. Not because I'm a member of some underground punctuation police, but because I want to preserve the beauty of the language, and I want to mean what I write and write what I mean.

By the way, I'm not really expecting any comments on this post. Besides the fact that it's probably up there with the ten most boring blog posts of all-time, I've most likely made you all too nervous of using bad grammar. Sorry. I'm nice. I promise.

Note: I finished our thank you cards and mailed all of them at once today! It definitely felt good to cross that little task off of my to do list!!! However, it was fun to say "thank you" so many times-- especially in the month of November!


Nate said...

I love you!

Colby and Katie said...

i read it all and loved it. I used to be terrified of grammar, but then I took a business writing class and started to love it. I actually find excitement in editing papers. Colby finds it frustrating. Oops. And way to go with your thank you cards. I wish I could say the same about mine... :/

Meg said...

You crack me up... so Rory!

Tolman Family said...

Not boring at all! Insightful, actually.

Brenda said...

Loved your post, I love language myself. Your Thank you note was adorable too.

Paige said...

Thank you for the cute thank you card- what a cute idea! We are finally moved so the crazy hectic time is pretty much we need to hang out and do something fun one night! Talk to you soon!