Déjà vu from the 9th grade causes the death of a resentment

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From Eats, Shoots and Leaves by Lynne Truss:

“A woman, without her man, is nothing.

“A woman: without her, man is nothing” (Truss 9).

Wow did this quote bring back memories!  Back when I was in 9th grade my teacher gave us the sentence: “A woman without her man is nothing,” just like that without any punctuation.  Our job was to punctuate it.  Then she went around the room and collected our papers.  As she analyzed how we had punctuated the sentence, she had us move to one side of the room or the other.  I am ashamed to say that I had punctuated my sentence in the first way (“A woman, without her man, is nothing”).  It wasn’t because I believed the veracity of the sentence, in fact, the way I had punctuated it actually made me mad.  When my teacher revealed what the two possible punctuations of the sentence were I remember being angry and feeling tricked and betrayed.  How was I supposed to know we could use colons! 

Rereading the two possibilities punctuations years later, I realize the task she put to us was a valid one.  At the time, I felt like she was just trying to show who in the class devalued the female gender.  In my anger at being duped, I missed the whole point behind the activity.  It is amazing to me how the connotation of the exact same words can change so drastically from the punctuation.  Truss proves the importance of punctuation masterfully (who hasn’t wondered why that comma really matters?), but Truss shows us why these little marks are so important.  I’m glad I received the opportunity to re-experience the sentence, “A woman without her man is nothing.”  As they say, with age comes wisdom, now I can look at these words without the old resentment bubbling up. 

5 Comments

You've brought up a good point, Greta. In the past, when I've taught with Truss, some students have focused on their feelings of frustration (the "I don't know these rules and can't be bothered to learn" syndrome), rather than seeing this as their opportunity finally to confront those rules and take on the role of a college-educated English speaker.

Thanks for sharing the story of your first experience with this punctuation puzzle. It reminds me that I have to remember to spend time to process lessons -- to explain to the class WHY we do certain things.

Katie Vann said:

I liked your story Gretta. I also enjoyed how Truss explained the rules of punctuation and why they were so. I had learned the same rules throughout my elementary and high school English classes, but a few of them, such as the difference between "its" and "it's" I easily forgot because I was never taught the reason why there was such a rule. Now that I know why there is a difference I will be able to remember and apply the rule more easily.

Katie Vann said:

I liked your story Gretta. I also enjoyed how Truss explained the rules of punctuation and why they were so. I had learned the same rules throughout my elementary and high school English classes, but a few of them, such as the difference between "its" and "it's" I easily forgot because I was never taught the reason why there was such a rule. Now that I know why there is a difference I will be able to remember and apply the rule more easily.

Erica Gearhart said:

Greta, you bring up a really great point here. We as a culture understand that what we say and how we say it is important, but I think we sometimes miss that also what we write and how we write it matters as well. Especially in this age when everyone uses text-based messages, we have to focus on how we are writing the messages that we want to convey. This means learning the grammar rules that we should have already mastered.

Erica Gearhart said:

Greta, you bring up a really great point here. We as a culture understand that what we say and how we say it is important, but I think we sometimes miss that also what we write and how we write it matters as well. Especially in this age when everyone uses text-based messages, we have to focus on how we are writing the messages that we want to convey. This means learning the grammar rules that we should have already mastered.

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