A panda walks into a cafe. He orders a sandwich, eats it, then draws a gun and fires two shots in the air.
“Why?” asks the confused waiter, as the panda makes towards the exit. The panda produces a badly punctuated wildlife manual and tosses it over his shoulder.
“I’m a panda,” he says, at the door. “Look it up.”
The waiter turns to the relevant entry and, sure enough, finds an explanation.
“PANDA. Large black-and-white bear-like mammal, native to China. Eats, shoots and leaves.”
This story came from the book “Eats, Shoots & Leaves – The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation” by Lynne Truss (Profile Books).
If you understand punctuation, you will also understand this life-and-death story due to a comma that should not be there. The comma may be just a little wiggle, but can contain a lot of power.
Most of the time we simply do not pay enough attention to punctuation or to choosing words that say exactly what we mean, an exercise that frequently involves a preference for short, simple words rather than long, complicated words – most of the time, our sentences are much too long, and our paragraphs even longer!
Many years ago I worked under bosses who insist on well-written notes that say exactly what they intend, no more and no less.
I particularly benefited from a couple of rules:
- No sentence should be longer than 3 lines, and no paragraph should contain more than 3 sentences.
- Watch your punctuation and use conjunctions sparingly.