Thursday, June 16, 2005


I've been reading 'Eats, Shoots and Leaves' by Lynne Truss. This is a book about punctuation and, at least the opening couple of pages, about the terrible toll that misuse of the apostrophe* takes on the good, honest pedant. I'm not entirely sure what I think of the book just yet, I've been reading it with a mixture of interest and irritation. Interest, because it has taught me many things about grammar that I was either never taught or have long since forgotten and irritation because well, I don't like people pointing out that I'm thick.

Since the complexity of my spoken English surpassed my ability to write it down I have been in a state of war with grammar, mostly because I can't write down - coherently anyway - what I can say out loud, but also because I dislike picky little rules in general. This hostility towards grammar has been a source of tension between me and teachers, me and Kristen, and between me and plenty of other people. I regard complaints about my punctuation, I think, in a similar way to my reaction to people criticizing my handwriting: a feeling that they are like the child more interested in the box than the present, although take that metaphor further and it seems quite justified as the 'present' is usually crap. I think the problem - certainly with my handwriting - is that I rarely write for the benefit of anyone other than myself. For example the only things that I hand-write now are my signature, lecture notes (On the rare occasions when I can be bothered to get up) and scribbled reminders about things to do or to write. This is why my handwriting has descended into a kind of scrawled shorthand that other people can only understand with a great deal of effort, bordering on cryptography, and my punctuation generally comes off the faster I go, like post-it notes on a sportscar. Normally, therefore, I write not with intelligibility in mind. My writing is like guitar Tab. Guitar Tab is a form of musical notation that tells you something you already half know: it doesn't give you the timing of the song, just the notes. You have to already know the tune or it's useless as a way of learning a piece of music. By the same token I generally already know half of what I have written when I come to read it and just need the words to fill in the gaps.

I know that sounds a bit bizarre but that's how things work in my head. I used to (many years ago) write in a big James Joyce style homogeneous blob then read it through, and put in the punctuation after I'd finished. Bearing that in mind my attitude to punctuation really isn't that unexplainable; for some reason writing and punctuation are dealt with by different parts of my mind that don't like working together.

However, I have reached the decision that as people correcting my grammar makes me angry, and I don't like being angry, I should improve my grammar. The stuff above is a reason for my grammar being bad, not really an attempt at trying to defend it as a valid position (I know it isn't - to extend the metaphor I used earlier through the boundaries of taste, decency and comprehensibility - the lovely present gets broken if the box isn't there).

My appalling punctuation is one of the reasons that I started this blog. I needed to get practice writing, and in a format that there is a possibility (albeit a very small one) of other people actually reading, thus giving me a reason to put a little more effort into making it understandable than normal.

Yes, I know this is full of errors, but that's only to be expected really. If you've been paying any attention to what I've been saying rather than just picking at the punctuation then I hope you won't judge me too harshly, otherwise grit your teeth and read it again, you dirty little pedant.


*as highlighted by the Apostrophe Protection society - (good grammar, shite webdesign)