Eats, Shoots and Leaves Review

I made this. Maybe I’ll do a drawing for each book review?

This one is for the pedants. Read this book if you’re the kind of person who grits your teeth every time you see a grammatical mistake in a hoarding. The title refers to a statement about a panda that eats (bamboo) shoots and leaves. But a misplaced comma makes it sound like a story about an evil panda that eats, shoots and leaves.

We are like the little boy in The Sixth Sense who can see dead people, except that we can see dead punctuation.

Lynne Truss

Starting with the oft-misplaces apostrophe to the lesser used dashes and colons, each chapter deals with the history, usage and evolution of a punctuation mark. What I found most fascinating was the origin story of each of these little marks.

The author is not one of those crufty old people who insists that their crufty rules are the only ones that are worth following. Nor does she favour the semi-literate lower-case-ridden style of the smart phone generation, of course. What still matters is to adhere to some semblance of rules.

As a self-deprecating, fun rant, this was an enjoyable read.

Strunk & White today

As someone who suffers from perennial writer’s block, Strunk & White does nothing to help. I spent thrice the usual time thinking up the post title. Could it be terser? Does it convey the primary content of the post? Should it mention the Elements of Style is also adorably funny on occassion?

I hadn’t read the book before but had come across more than enough posts declaring its demise. I’ve read it now and thoroughly enjoyed it. I love when people have strong opinions and its authors have them in abundance. I suppose its detractors forget that the title is ‘The Elements of Style’ and not ‘The-mandatory-guide-to-perfect-English-and-everything-else-is-wrong’. The authors themselves frequently advise rather than mandate, and acknowledge that language is fluid and bound to change with the times. Why nitpick then? We’re all grown ups here–we should learn to enjoy a book while knowing how to separate its outdated advice from the relevant bits.

I love it most for its terseness. It reminds me of reading a man page. Brimming with content, but precise.  Any one who has been through the education system knows the drivel that students are encouraged to vomit in every exam. This ‘skill’ is a pain to unlearn and lives on in mediocre minds in their profession as well.  Read that link and weep.

Better to end with Strunk himself, rather than the atrocious text in that link.

Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all sentences short, or avoid all detail and treat subjects only in outline, but that every word tell.

Look up a word’s definition in Emacs

Here’s a quick lisp snippet I found in my .emacs. I put it together some time back and referenced this great site in the comments.

  (defun word-definition-lookup ()
"Look up the word under cursor in a browser."
(interactive)
(browse-url
(concat "http://www.google.co.in/search?hl=en&q=define%3A"
(thing-at-point 'word)))
)

The above code is called with an M-x word-definition-lookup

It causes Emacs to use google’s define keyword for the word at point. It ought to use the system’s default browser to do this.