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Grammar crimminals?

August 5, 2010

I saw a segment yesterday on the Today show about these two dudes, Jeff Deck and Benjamin Hersen, who went across the country fixing grammatical errors in signage—a “great typo hunt.” A gas station sign that misspelled coffee, an apostrophe-happy restaurant menu, a label of “beefstake” tomatoes in a supermarket. They now wrote a book about this adventure.

Are there more important ways of spending your time? Maybe. But then again, there are things like this:

(via reddit)

Many grammar lovers and editors have made it their mission to seek out egregious grammar errors and correct them on blogs and in books. I myself even own one such book, I Judge You When You Use Poor Grammar.

But, does it really help the world? Probably not. Whoever made these mistakes will most likely make them again, whether you attack that little sign with your red sharpie or not.

But here’s the funny thing: I did a few searches on Deck and Hersen, the men who went across the country fixing signs, and they actually got into some trouble for their corrections. Someone looked them up and found an entry on their Web page (via Telegraph):

A diary entry by Mr Deck said they had visited the Desert View Watchtower in Grand Canyon national park and “discovered a hand-rendered sign inside that, I regret to report, contained a few errors”.

Using a marker, he replaced an erroneous apostrophe and added a comma to the yellow lettering on a black fibreboard sign.

However, the pair did not realise the sign had been made by Mary Elizabeth Jane Colter, the architect who built the watchtower and other landmarks in the Grand Canyon area.

They pleaded guilty to conspiracy to vandalise government property and were sentenced to a year’s probation during which they cannot enter a national park or change any public signs.

They were also told to pay £1,500 to repair the sign. Fortunately they had ignored a more egregious typo: the word immense was spelled “emense”.

Their website now carries this message: “Statement on the signage of our National Parks and public lands to come”

However, it lacks a full stop.

I don’t know why, but I find that extremely amusing. The thing is, and I know this first-hand, people don’t like to be corrected. Even when they have hired you to correct them, no one likes proofreading marks. Red pens. The silent smugness they imagine behind every deletion and carat and explanation of proper usage.

I guess maybe the moral is, don’t correct the NPS. It won’t be amused. Vandalism is vandalism, whether it’s in the name of correctness or not.

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