Grammar vigilantes' comeuppance
I haven’t said anything about the two gentlemen who set off across the United States with their Sharpies to correct grammar and punctuation in signage on a continental scale. The whole project looked fatuous. Now, it turns out, they have overreached: After defacing a marker at the Grand Canyon, they have been charged in federal court, pleaded guilty, banned from the national parks and ordered to pay restitution.*
Punctuation in signage varies widely, particularly with proper nouns. In Maryland there is a county named Queen Anne’s. In adjacent Talbot County, there is a town named St. Michaels. (Messrs. Deck and Herson would have had a busy day there.) That’s just how it is.
If the young gentlemen were to pass an Eastern Shore roadside stand proclaiming “LOPES” for sale, would they excise the quotation marks? Would they add an apostrophe? (I knew an Episcopal priest some years ago who insisted on writing the verb for making a telephone call as ’phone. Would his newsletter get marked up? Or would we have to go back to writing ’cello as well? **)
Or how worthwhile is it to get into an argument was a grocery store manager about his checkout sign limiting to 10 items or less? Or quibbling with the manager of a restaurant whose menu offers a cup of au jus? If that’s the kind of place where you dine, grammar is probably the least of your worries.
What is annoying about the whole enterprise is that it trivializes grammar, and reinforces the public image that people concerned about grammar and usage are (a) preoccupied with trifles and (b) busybodies whose joy in life is to correct other people publicly.
But let me salute the anonymous copy editor at the Republic who wrote an apt headline:
Typo vigilantes answer to letter of the law
* A link to the article in the Arizona Republic and associated commentary can be found at Language Log. And thanks to all the readers who sent links to the story.
** The original name of the instrument was violoncello.