Are you confounded by commas, addled by apostrophes, or queasy about quotation marks? Do you believe a bracket is just a support for a wall shelf, a dash is something you make for the bathroom, and a colon and semicolon are large and small intestines? If so, language humorists Richard Lederer and John Shore (with the sprightly aid of illustrator Jim McLean), have written the perfect book to help make your written words perfectly precise and punctuationally profound.
Don't expect Comma Sense to be a dry, academic tome. On the contrary, the authors show how each mark of punctuation--no matter how seemingly arcane--can be effortlessly associated with a great American icon: the underrated yet powerful period with Seabiscuit; the jazzy semicolon with Duke Ellington; even the rebel apostrophe with famed outlaw Jesse James. But this book is way more than a flight of whimsy. When you've finished Comma Sense, you'll not only have mastered everything you need to know about punctuation through Lederer and Shore's simple, clear, and right-on-the-mark rules, you'll have had fun doing so. When you're done laughing and learning, you'll be a veritable punctuation whiz, ready to make your marks accurately, sensitively, and effectively.
Lederer has long been one of America's most popular experts on language and grammar, but here he seems to be taking his cue from Lynn Truss in focusing on the ins and outs of commas, semi-colons and the other little dots and dashes that punctuate our writing. Lederer, with writer and editor Shore, tries a bit too hard to convince readers of the importance of good punctuation ("Good punctuation makes for a good life") and to make the whole business amusing (the period is "a mark so dinky that farsighted fleas court it"); disquisitions on Seabiscuit and Albert Einstein's hair are distractions rather than entertainments. And all the talk of how the apostrophe is like Jesse James explains less than Lederer's straightforward usage examples, such as the serious differences in meaning between these two sentences: "The butler stood in the doorway and called the guests names"; "The butler stood in the doorway and called the guests' names." Yes, punctuation is important, and the bold-face print for basic rules does make this an easy-to-use guide for the punctuationally perplexed.
Copyright (c) Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
There are no customer reviews available at this time. Would you like to write a review?
St. Martin's Press
July 26, 2005
Number of Print Pages*
Adobe DRM EPUB
* Number of eBook pages may differ. Click here for more information.
Excerpt from Comma Sense by Richard Lederer
There are only three ways a sentence can end--
With an exclamation point:
With a question mark:
Or with a period:
I know you won, but I'm having trouble believing it.
That's it. Those are your choices. Every sentence that's not an exclamation or a question must end with a period. And because people are by and large too proud to ask too many questions and too shy to go around hollering all the time, the vast (not the half-vast) majority of sentences are what are called declarative statements--statements that just say something and therefore end in a period.
It is difficult to think of any other instance in life in which something as small as the period carries so much clout. It's a mark so dinky that farsighted fleas court it. Yet virtually any declarative statement--a picturesque description, a mild directive, a thoughtful observation, or a wandering exposition that starts out as if it's going somewhere specific but about halfway through makes clear enough that if it ever does pull in anywhere, it'll do so carrying the corpses of whatever readers were unlucky enough to have climbed aboard it in the first place--must stop whenever the period says it's time.
Verily is the period the crosswalk guard of our language.
If only there were any famous crosswalk guards, we could use one of them right here as a metaphor for the period. But, of course, most of us never give a thought to those stalwart sedan stoppers except when we're watching them from inside our cars, feeling weird about how much we, too, want to wear a cop's hat and a bright orange vest and hold up a big sign stopping all the cars so little kids can be on their scholarly little way.
That's why we resist making crosswalk guards famous: It ticks us off that they have better jobs than we do. Why should they get any more glory? They've got their hats, their signs, their cool sashes, their white gloves. That's enough. Any more, and they'll feel empowered enough to start shooting out our tires to stop us.
No, as a metaphor for the period the crosswalk guard won't do at all.
We need someone small. Someone powerful. Someone who at first seemed to have no potential. Someone with attitude. Someone with finishing power.
We need Seabiscuit!
He's small: Sizewise, Seabiscuit was closer to a merry-go-round horse than a stakes-hogging racehorse.
He's powerful: In a much-ballyhooed match race, Seabiscuit spotted the stately War Admiral whole hands and still whipped him.
Even equine experts didn't think that the plucky little horse had any potential: There was a time when Seabiscuit couldn't be given away. (Just as, in the beginning, no one thought the period would be able to reach the finish line, let alone stop the most puffed up of sentences. The giant, imposing question mark was supposed to be the punctuation leader--and you see how that turned out.)
He's got attitude: Seabiscuit liked to torment his fellow racehorses by always just beating them. (Just as the period seems to enjoy taunting letters and words by letting them think they might have a chance of ending up ahead of it. It's wrong to behave that way, of course--but sometimes that's the kind of attitude that makes a winner a winner.)
He's got finishing power. Seabiscuit surged to the finish line first in an awesomely high percentage of his races.
And finally, just as Seabiscuit needed a strong and thoughtful rider in order to do his best (Johnny "Red" Pollard and 'Biscuit had a special bond), so the period needs a strong and thoughtful writer to do its best. And that writer is you, friend. So get that foot up in that stirrup, swing that other leg up and over, and let's show these whippersnapper words how the little boys do it.
. A period marks the conclusion of any sentence that doesn't end with an exclamation point or a question mark:
Singing with utmost exuberance and abandon and filling in the music-only parts with dance steps reminiscent of how impossible it was to even walk in disco shoes, Bert delivered a karaoke version of K.C. and the Sunshine Band's "Get Down Tonight" that was a testimony to what it was about disco in the first place that compelled so many of us to drop out of high school.