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Saturday 4 May 2019

Review - Gyles Brandreth: Have You Eaten Grandma?

Gyles Brandreth
Have You Eaten Grandma? Or the life-saving importance of correct punctuation, grammar, and good English. (5*)

You might expect a book about punctuation, grammar and usage to be useful but dull. Useful: it certainly is. Dull: nothing could be further from the truth.

Described on the book jacket as a writer, broadcaster, actor and former MP, Gyles Brandreth sounds like one of those metropolitan smarty-pants always on television telling you how clever they are. He is, but differs from the others (e.g. Fry, Self, Coren-hyphen) in being rather likeable. If you have seen or heard him on The One Show or Just A Minute you will know of his unstoppable exuberance and unassuming sense of fun. They permeate this book and make it a joy to read.

Yes, it is a useful volume to keep handy by your desk and laptop to check on all those things you are never quite sure of. Should the full-stop go before or after the closing speech mark? Am I making correct use of the colon? What’s the difference between an n-dash and an m-dash? Should that be practice or practise, aggravate or annoy? There are hints, tips and lists of irregular plurals, internet acronyms, bad language, innocent place names that sound rude, rhyming slang, annoying words and phrases such as upcoming and no-brainer, euphemisms, useful Scrabble words, rules for writers, differences between English and American English … in fact everything to do with language.

But it is the way these things are described and handled that make the book stand out. I was surprised it was so laugh-out-loud funny:
  • Asterisks, we learn, can be used to show the omission of letters to help disguise words – e.g. President T**** is a w****r. A footnote then tells us that President Truman was indeed a wonder, the only President with no name to go with his middle initial.
  • The Brandreth rule on hyphens: hyphenate only for clarity, otherwise don’t. For example, a real newspaper headline, ‘Students get first hand job experience’, needs a hyphen either between ‘first’ and ‘hand’ or between ‘hand’ and ‘job’, depending.
  • How to remember the spelling of ‘diarrhoea’: Dash in a real rush – hurry, or else accident!
  • From the texting guide for seniors:  BTW = bring the wheelchair.
I’m not going to pinch all his jokes. You’ll have to buy it for the rest.

Key to star ratings: 5*** wonderful and hope to read again, 5* wonderful, 4* enjoyed it a lot and would recommend, 3* enjoyable/interesting, 2* didn't enjoy, 1* gave up.


  1. I'm totally with him on the grammar stuff (though I may not quite agree with all of his rules) but as for being likable, give me Fry or Coren-Mitchell any day. Not Will Self though. Never Will Self

    1. I'd settle for not Will Self as a compromise.

  2. His would be just the guide I need. I find that as I move farther (further?) away from my school years, I tend to make ever more grammar & punctuation mistakes.

    1. Me too. And things I know I once knew without hesitation (stationery/stationary?) I now find myself checking on just to make sure.

  3. And to think for several years I taught English grammar to young innocents fresh out of high school. I possibly still could, if I stayed one chapter ahead in the text and didn't have to explain gerunds out of turn.

    1. Armed with a secret copy of Gyles Brandreth's book under your desk you would have their undivided attention (even more of it than usual). Strangely, he doesn't mention gerunds, although he does give a couple of amusing examples of dangling participles.


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