Poor apostrophe. The rampant abuse of the tiny punctuation mark leaves Lynne Truss "depressed and horrified." Prudential Insurance denies that there's anything wrong with its "Were here to help you" slogan. Defunct Brit poppers Hear'Say threw the bugger in the middle of their name. And the Lands' End mail-order people refuse to admit that it belongs before the s.
"It's in such peril," sighs Truss, a British broadcaster and author of the wildly funny and informative Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation. "It is quite shocking to see the apostrophe scattered about all over the place in such a random way."
Ever since her witty book topped both the British and U.S. best-sellers' lists this year ("a wonderful accident," she claims), Truss has crusaded to keep punctuation from falling into an abyss of illiteracy. "I didn't expect [the book] to sell," says Truss, who once stood outside a London movie theater with a stick in her hand and dared passersby to play a game of Pin the Apostrophe on the Sentence. "I really thought it would end up in the reference section, and people would say, 'It's a book about punctuation, and we'll move on.'"
Blame e-mails and text messages for the crimes against punctuation, says Truss. If you want to show your enthusiasm, string exclamation marks together!!! Emphasize a word? CAPITALIZE it. Stress an entire sentence? PUT THE WHOLE DAMN THING IN CAPS. "It's informal, because of the state most people's English is in," groans Truss. "It's deprived them of a key means to expressing themselves, and that's such a wicked oversight."
But Truss has no plans to become the Queen of Punctuation. Her 209-page tome is all the scolding you'll get from her. If it hasn't saved colons, commas, and, yes, apostrophes from the endangered-species list, she remains "doomy" about the future of literacy. "It's actually a cause to try to save it," she insists. "Or at least point out what good it does, before it goes."