Comma Sense: A FUNdamental Guide to Punctuation

by John Shore on June 28, 2007 · 8 comments

Winner of the 2005 San Diego Book Award
for Best Reference/How-To

Kindle edition

NookBook edition

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Praise for “Comma Sense”:

Comma Sense is a clear, entertaining, and just plain helpful guide to the American rules of punctuation.” —Lynne Truss, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Eats, Shoots & Leaves

“Of my 465 books on punctuation—I’ve read them all—Comma Sense is the wisest and funniest. It’s the only one you really need.”— Bryan A. Garner, author of Garner’s Modern American Usage

“A thorough field guide to the pesky little critters of the punctuation forest. Lederer and Shore hit the marks!”—Bill Walsh, author of The Elephants of Style

Comma Sense by Richard Lederer and John Shore (St. Martin’s Griffin) was published in 2005, but a paperback copy of the punctuation guide came across my desk recently.

“In general, I like grammar/usage/style/mechanics books that are straightforward without a lot of frills and nonsense. New books must compete with the elegant Elements of Style by Strunk and White and with the alphabetically arranged usage guides like Garner’s Modern American Usage. I like books that give me the answers and advice I need without trying too hard to entertain me.

Comma Sense is entertaining, but it does have solid, practical and easy to understand guidance on punctuation. The jokes have a certain geeklike quality that I find funny. Maybe you have to be a copy editor to laugh aloud at the ‘hyphos,’ a word the authors made up for the goofy hyphenation that appears in some words in newspapers: sung-lasses, barf-lies, sli-pup. The ones the authors made up are hilarious.

“In the chapter on the apostrophe, when the writers are lamenting those awful signs such as “The Smith’s,” they have this to say about one that said ‘The Jone’s': Here we have an atrocity of both case and number in one felonious swoop. Applying ‘atrocity’ and ‘felonious’ to an apostrophe error just tickles me. As my husband says about why the Three Stooges are funny, it’s not what they’re doing, it’s THAT they’re doing it.

“Each punctuation mark is compared to a famous figure: the comma is detective Allen Pinkerton; the question mark is Albert Einstein; the dash is Fred Astaire. The writers actually carry off these conceits well enough that you want to smack your head. Of course, Ed Sullivan represents the colon. His work was all about introducing what came next.

“The best part is the ‘Cheat Sheet’ chapter at the end. It gives all the punctuation rules with a few humorous examples under each. That makes the book one I will keep nearby. The paperback copy has a suggested retail price of $9.95. It’s worth that. “–Pam Nelson, The News & Observer

“Who else would call the exclamation point ‘this titan of tingle, this prince of palpitation’? Who else would call the apostrophe the Jesse James of punctuation? Who else would compare the dash to Fred Astaire, the semicolon to Duke Ellington, and parentheses (yes, my darlings) to Louella Parsons? It can only be Richard Lederer, Viceroy of Verbivores, and his trusty sidekick, John Shore.” —Patricia T. O’Conner, author of Woe Is I

“Punctuation needn’t be perplexing or painful, as Richard Lederer and John Shore make abundantly clear. Comma Sense is full of easy-to-understand guidance for the grammatically challenged—and loads of laughs besides!”— Martha Barnette, author of Dog Days and Dandelions, co-host of public broadcasting’s A Way With Words

“Now a pair of U.S. writers has joined the grammar book sweepstakes, guiding us through the correct usage of 13 punctuation marks–period, question mark, exclamation point, comma, semicolon, colon, dash, apostrophe, quotation marks, parentheses, brackets, hyphen and ellipsis–in Comma Sense. Authors Richard Lederer and John Shore don’t take Truss’ no-prisoners approach, but rather try to convince us that getting the comma in the right place can be fun. ‘The power’s in the punctuation, baby,’ write Lederer and Shore. ‘And we’re gonna show you how to be a power pack of punctuational potency.’ Lederer is the author of more than 30 books on the English language; Shore, a magazine writer and editor. Together they’ve linked punctuation marks to various American personalities: The dash is Fred Astaire, the exclamation point is Lucy Ricardo, the question mark is Albert Einstein and (my favorite) parentheses are gossip columnist Louella Parsons. Okay, it’s goofy, but if this book stops just one person from mixing up the proper use of ‘its’ and ‘it’s’ ever again, I hope it’s nominated for the Pulitzer. For, alas, punctuation not only pays, it matters. As Lederer and Shore point out, ‘Like it or not, writing well–not artistically, not ornately, not floridly, but just competently–really is the difference between being largely able to define your own life and having much of your life defined for you. Writing is, in a word, power.’

“‘Writing well is important for business, but it also can be crucial in love,’ the writers warn. “Do you want to say, ‘I would like to tell you that I love you. I can’t stop thinking that you are one of the prettiest women on Earth,’ or ‘I would like to tell you that I love you. I can’t. Stop thinking that you are one of the prettiest women on Earth.’? As Lederer and Shore say, ‘Punctuation can mean the difference between a second date and a restraining order.” —Margo Hammond, St. Petersburg Times

“‘Lederer and Shore’s Comma Sense–bear in mind that it’s their first collaboration–is speckled with humor so lame that it keeps falling on its assonance.’ Whoever wrote that callous, brutal comment about Comma Sense must be lacking in their own sense of humor. Oh, wait, that comment was written by Lederer and Shore. My mistake. Yes, this book is truly unique! If language can be considered a cartoon, then Comma Sense is Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, the Road Runner, Batman, the Far Side, Charlie Brown, and Donald Duck all rolled into one.

“Each chapter is devoted to one of 13 punctuation marks. These punctuation marks have fun, make fun, and are fun! My favorite is the dash, who is compared to Fred Astaire: ‘The dash emboldens eloquence; Fred Astaire embodies elegance. Plus, they’re both skinny.’ Comma Sense spins tales that sound like facts until you realize that they co-exist with punctuation marks in the wild and crazy world of Ledererean lingofantasy. ‘Little Shirley Temple chirped, “…And most of all, I’d like to thank that most wonderful of punctuation marks, the hyphen, which I personify!’

“Seriously, this book has been cited as the clearest source on punctuation ever written. It is necessary for saving the human race from its dangerous slide into a punctuationless exclamation point of no return! It tells you everything you wanted to know about punctuation but were afraid to ask. If you want to see punc rock, open the pages of this comprehensive, hilarious book. Here is a song you will find in it that showcases the seven coordinating conjunctions. It is sung to the tune of the Julie Andrews smash hit, ‘Do, Re, Mi.’ Go ahead and sing it out loud! If your neighbors complain, give them this review and tell them to buy the book:–Dave Morice, Word Ways

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