Much Ado about May

Tuesday, 4 May, 2004
The Nose Bar
The Nose Wine Bar
(With thanks to The Nose Wine Bar)

All the talk in the UK at the moment is about a book called 'Eats, shoots and leaves' by Lynne Truss.

Some of you might know this as the punchline of a coarse panda joke, but in fact it is a rather pedantic study of how you can misuse the English language if you don't know the basic rules of grammar and punctuation.

My parents brought it over from the UK as they have finally accepted that I have misused the English language most of my life, that I am likely to continue to misuse it for the rest of my life, and they thought it would comfort me to know I was not alone.

The apostrophe is a closed book to me and I am far more likely to make random guesses than informed decisions as to where and when to use it. Verbs, adverbs, nouns, pronouns - these could all mean the same thing for my money and I'm sure infinitives out there won't hold it against me, but I'm afraid I split you all the time. I just hope it doesn't hurt too much. But one thing I am good at is spelling. I'm an ace speller and am apt to become rather pedantic myself when correcting other people's mistakes. And some of them are highly entertaining, particularly in this lazy world of spell-checkers when the computer thinks it knows best.

A well-known Cape Town restaurant is advertising itself as the 'elicit love-child' of another well-known Cape Town restaurant. Do they really mean it is the 'extracted, drawn-out' love-child or perhaps they mean 'illicit' as in slightly sordid and secretive? One of our new food suppliers has been using the following slogan - 'Not using us yet? – your loosing out'. I pondered on this one for some time. My what is being loosed? Is it my belt or my morals perhaps - and will I catch it in time before it makes a mess of the floor?

And finally, my favourite. One of the wine farms, keen to improve their quality of service, recently sent me a questionnaire in which it asked 'Do we timorously deliver your wine?' The scene is broad daylight on a mid-week morning. A shy tap on the door. I look out – no-one is there but a case of wine lies on my threshold and a man in blue overalls peers nervously from behind the large palm in the corner. It is possible that the winery meant 'timeously', an abomination of a word in itself, but I'm not so sure and will be inspecting every plant pot for lurking delivery men on a regular basis.

A phrase beloved of those people who write the text on the back labels of wine bottles is that the wine 'compliments' certain foods. No it doesn't. 'Gosh you're looking rather tasty tonight m'dear' 'Oh thank you, I've been marinaded in red wine and fine herbs for three hours and I find that makes all the difference.' This is not a conversation that you will eavesdrop over the dinner table. Of course, the copywriters mean 'complement' but when you consider a lot of the other rubbish that gets written on the back of bottles, I suppose misusing the odd word is relatively insignificant.

At least the sense (or nonsense) of what they want to get across is there, which is not something you can always say about incorrect punctuation. Along with the book 'Eats, shoots and leaves', my parents also brought me a t-shirt. The slogan on the front reads 'A woman, without her man, is nothing.'

Before all you feminists out there join me in getting your hackles up, let me change the punctuation and see what you think then – 'A woman: without her, man is nothing.' Sounds a bit better to me. So, long live the correct use of the colon, semi-colon, comma and, if I absolutely must, the wretched apostrophe!

Cheers, Cathy, Kevin & The Team at The Nose

The Nose Wine Bar