ROLLICKING: (adjective) exuberantly lively and amusing . high-spirited . carefree . joyous

Image result for free images of punctuation marks

I bought several books a few days ago. As usual, I started reading as soon as I got home and immediately settled on two, which I am reading alternately. One of them, the British bestseller  Eats, Shoots & Leaves, by Lynne Truss, made me think of our word for this week. The book  is in every way rollicking, “exuberantly lively and amusing.”

What  is the book all about? Punctuation. Yes, punctuation.  Author  Lynne Truss has placed this much-abused  and greatly neglected aspect of  the English language on an exalted level—albeit to a committed few, whom the author calls “sticklers” and the “punctuation vigilantes.”

On the cover of the book is a picture of  a panda on a ladder. It is holding a paintbrush and is getting ready to  remove the comma from the title of the book. Another panda is walking away from the ladder. He holds a gun aimed to shoot.  Now see what you can make of the title of the book. If you don’t laugh uproariously, it’s not my fault.

I heard about the book a long time ago, along with two others: Painless Grammar, by Rebecca Elliott, and Woe is I, by Patricia D. O’Conner.  I bought both of these but never got around to acquiring a copy of Lynne Truss’ book until my recent find. What a rollicking book it is!  In it the author, with much merriment, and satire and puns, rails against sloppy  usage and the failure of the British schools to teach correct English, but mainly she settles on punctuation, and, believe it or not, there is plenty to write about. Take, for instance, the sentence given to students to punctuate  on a 1937 national test:  “Charles the First walked and talked an hour after his head was cut off.”  Give the current state of the study of language, and punctuation in particular, Truss wonders whether any British  students today could punctuate the sentence correctly.

The author levels her criticism at public signs in the UK and their blatant errors in punctuation, especially the apostrophe, but the same  could be said about signs in public places in the U.S.  My older son, himself somewhat of a “stickler,” finds  examples of gross, often humorous, errors as he goes about in the city where he lives and beyond, and he shares them with me—taking pictures to validate his findings.

We must concede that there are some differences between British and American punctuation, a major one being where to place  the period  (British full stop) with an end (close) quotation mark. The British place the period outside the quotation mark. American practice places the period inside the quotation mark. This rule came into question during the editing of  Dark Days on the Fairest Isle, which is being published in Britain.  The proofs were sent to me, and I painstakingly went through the manuscript and changed all the commas  and periods, placing them inside the end quotation mark. After all, I had labored long and hard with my students getting them to do it right.  In the process of editing the proof, we had a few do-overs (my insistence), but with one last correction that I made,  I was told, “It is correct as is,” so I let it go. No need to have an international incident about punctuation.

Lynne Truss takes aim at a lot of  wrongly punctuated signs. One that she saw at a petrol (gas) station near where she lives gets her going vigorously, calling it  “a satanic sprinkling of redundant apostrophes.”  The sign that drew her ire reads: “Come inside for CD’S, VIDEO’S, DVD’S, and BOOK’s.” It is clever of her to dip into the supernatural realm to find the reason for such a punctuation catastrophe. I know that with spiritual insight, understanding, and divine guidance we can overcome all our shortcomings, but I’m not sure that weak punctuation is included.






  • Judy Brown

    Judith, I love love love your book!!! I like mysteries and I’m having trouble putting it down. I will probably finish it tonight. You are such a talented person & I am fortunate to be your neighbor.

    • Judith Nembhard


      You bought the first copy, and here I am getting my first feedback. I “love, love” your comment.
      Indeed, there is some mystery in the book. I enjoyed writing it.
      I hope you finish reading it soon. I think you’ll like the ending.
      Thanks for the day-brightener. JN