Can You Eat, Shoot and Leave?

Bathgate writer, Clare Dignall’s Can You Eat, Shoot & Leave? (Collins, £7.99) is a sharp, humorous sequel to Lynn Truss’s 2003 masterpiece on punctuation Eats, Shoots and Leaves. Sloppy punctuation, like sloppy grammar, had become increasingly common when Lynn Truss wrote her little master-piece. (The title is based on the tale of the panda in the café who eats his sandwich, draws a gun and fires into the air. The panda explains to the bewildered café owner that the definition of his kind is a large black-and-white bear-like mammal, native to China which eats, shoots and leaves. One misplaced comma totally strangles the original intended meaning.)
Clare Dignall has produced a non-technical introduction (with a foreword by Lynn Truss herself) to the art of clear, sensible punctuation. She makes clear that there are rules to punctuation: and she makes the rules clear and understandable. Her purpose is plain. She likes language and wants to use it to make her points clearly.

We’re all aware of the greengrocer’s (or café owner’s) apostrophe: potato’s, tomato’s, fish and chip’s. There are also the sentences in which the place of the comma entirely determines the meaning: When hunting bears hide in the woods. These are the relatively simple examples. The colon/semi-colon confusion is a tad more difficult. Decide which, colon or semi-colon, should divide these phrases: There is only one thing wrong with this sentence its punctuation. (The answer is a colon. Agreed?)
Clare Dignall takes us through these and a series of other, often light-hearted, always deadly serious, exercises which illustrate or expand on the material in Lynn Truss’s original work. The tone is marginally lighter and less insistent than the original. There is an explicit acceptance that language changes. There is also an assertion that absolute accuracy may not be essential when using such informal media as emails or texts. (I’m not so certain about that.)

The new work however, accepts a marginally more flexible approach than the original. It reminds us, for example, that the British norm is that double quotation marks are used for a quotation within a quotation, while in the US the single quotation mark is used thus. As long is the usage is consistent, Clare Dignall is happy that the writer chooses what makes most personal sense. Where she stands totally with her predecessor, vilified by some as a pedantic Grammar fascist, is the assertion that those who understand the rules can be trustworthy judges of when to break them.

This is a wonderful work by a local writer. It is likely to become a standard in sharing and raising good practice in writing.


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Alex Wood

Alex Wood has had a varied career in education. He started as an English teacher at Edinburgh’s Craigroyston High School in 1973 and completed his school-based work as Head Teacher at Wester Hailes Education Centre in 2011. In between he worked in community education, was a Learning Support teacher, headed a behaviour support unit, was Head of a special school and worked in Edinburgh’s Education headquarters. He is a member of the Education Committee of St George’s School. Alex is now an Associate at the Scottish Centre for Studies in School Administration (SCSSA) at Moray House and is Secretary of the Scottish Educational Leadership, Management and Administration Society (SELMAS) as well as being a free-lance writer. His experience however ranges well beyond the worlds of schools and education. For seven years in the 1980s he was an elected member of Edinburgh District Council and he retains a keen interest in the political world. He has a long involvement in genealogy and family history, as a researcher, teacher and writer. He is a member of Edinburgh Common Purpose’s Advisory Group and of the committee of Linlithgow Book Festival. Although he has lived in Linlithgow for over 20 years, and in Edinburgh for the previous 18 years, he remains a loyal fan of his home town football club, Brechin City.

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