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IT DOESNT sound like the most riveting of reads. But, amazingly, a book which is about the pleasures and pitfalls of punctuation has topped this year's Christmas best-seller list.

The grammar guide called Eats, Shoots And Leaves - subtitled The Zero Tolerance Approach To Punctuation - has shot into the book charts at number one, just a few weeks after being published.

The hardback,by journalist and broadcaster Lynne Truss, has caused a storm in the literary world after selling more than 50,000 copies in its first 10 days on sale.

In the week up to Christmas, another 124,170 copies flew off the shelves and it is already the 'second best seller' at Waterstone's bookshop.

Truss's achievement is all the more remarkable because her book, which sells at pounds 9.99, has not even been advertised.

Last week it sold more copies than the latest John Grisham blockbuster and England rugby captain Martin Johnson's autobiography combined.

As Scott Pack, buying manager at Waterstone's, explains: "This is the book everyone's buying at Christmas.

"No one in the publishing industry thought it would be in the Top Three over Christmas.

"If you'd been making a list of trendy subjects, Im sure you wouldn't have put grammar and punctuation there.

"But Lynne Truss has hit a raw nerve with her book.

"A lot of people are buying it for themselves or to give to anyone they know whos pedantic."

He adds: "We had high hopes and have supported it, but are pleasantly surprised that its done so well.

"The word of mouth is very good and it has built its own momentum."

The guide argues the case for proper punctuation and highlights some of the most common errors we make when writing.

How to use apostrophes and semicolons correctly are two of the topic's Truss feels most strongly about and tackles with a mixture of humour and school teacher sternness.

She came up with the idea of a book on punctuation, a subject no longer taught in most schools, after presenting a Radio 4 show on English grammar.

But it was a chance meeting with editor Andrew Franklin, at a party last Christmas, that finally gave Truss the opportunity to put her heartfelt ideas about the written word into print.

Franklin, who met Truss when he worked for Penguin but is now the managing and publishing director at Profile Books, explains: "She'd been doing a couple of programmes about punctuation on the radio, so I suggested she should write a book.

"Eleven months later, this is the result.

"I'd love to say we were brilliant and saw its the way the trends are going, but it wouldnt really be true.

"We didn't plan spending money on advertising, but we did believe it was very good and the booksellers liked it before publication.

"We printed 15,000 copies and while I was away, our sales director decided to print another 10,000.

"I had my doubts and thought she'd been rash with other people's money. In fact, by next week there will be 140,000 copies.

"Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells would be thrilled by this book and so would a naturally bright teenager or a pedantic journalist. It says all that needs to be said. And it's also extremely funny.

As well as impressing the general public, the book is set to be a huge hit with academics.

Several universities are planning to make it a compulsory text for undergraduates and celebrities such as Today presenter John Humphrys' have been championing its cause.

Looking further afield, Penguin have bought the US rights to the book for pounds 70,000 with a view to publishing there next summer.

Truss, who stands to make a fortune from Eats, Shoots And Leaves, says she is stunned by its runaway success.

As she says: "It's partly that the people who have been trained to use punctuation properly are upset to see it being badly used, and partly, perhaps, that some people genuinely want to learn what punctuation can do for them.

"I am astounded."

Spot the mistakes?

SO, how good is your punctuation? There are 10 deliberate mistakes in the article above. Can you spot them?


1 In paragraph one there is an apostrophe missing from the word "doesnt".

2 'Second-best seller' should not be in quotation marks in paragraph six.

3 There is a missing apostrophe in "Im", in paragraph nine.

4 "Whos", in paragraph 11, should read, "who's".

5 In paragraph 12, "its" should read, "it's".

6 There is a missing hyphen from the word "semi-colon" in paragraph 15.

7 Also in paragraph 15, there is no need for an apostrophe in the plural, "topics".

8 There are two apostrophes missing from paragraph 20. "Its" and "wouldnt" should read, "It's" and "wouldn't".

9 The closing quotation marks are missing from the end of paragraph 24.

10 There is no need for the apostrophe at the end of "Humphrys" in paragraph 26.

PS: And you'll have spotted the missing apostrophe in the headline!

Greengrocer commas are a hot potato

TRUSS'S top 10 punctuation gripes are:

1 USING misplaced commas. An actor in Macbeth once called out "Go get him, surgeons" when he should have said "Go, get him surgeons."

2 SLOPPY punctuation. For example, "A woman, without her man, is nothing" is very different from "A woman: without her, man is nothing."

3 MISSING apostrophes can change a sentence completely. What does "Prudential - were here to help you" mean?

4 OVERUSE of the exclamation mark. The written equivalent of laughing at your own jokes.

5 HEAR'SAY. The use of an apostrophe in the group's name was "a significant milestone on the road to punctuation anarchy".

6 CONFUSION over when to use its and it's. Truss says: "Getting your itses mixed up is the greatest solecism in the world of punctuation."

7 THE demise of the semi-colon and colon. Truss says: "Are the colon and semi-colon old-fashioned? No. But they are old."

8 QUESTION marks used at the end of indirect questions - "a bit depressing".

9 INVERTED commas that aren't necessary. Truss describes seeing 'pizzas' written on a supermarket sign. She says: "It suggested these might be pizzas, but nobody's promising anything."

10 IGNORANT greengrocers - potatoe's, carrot's etc. "There is no excuse for not knowing potatoes is the plural of potato."


ASTOUNDED: Lynne Truss
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2003 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Dec 29, 2003
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