Typo vigilantes go on spelling spree


I’m getting a little bit “what it says in the papers” these days, but a headline from today’s Irish Times cheered me up no end this morning, as it appealed to my own inner grammar vigilante.

Typo vigilantes go on spelling spree

I had visions of vigilantes red pen in hand going about the world righting mispellings. I wondered if I could send them to a particular Irish town, which proudly advertises a restaurant deal for a “Three Coarse Meal”. Or my local restaurant which displays a sign for beer’s and pizza’s.

So back to the story of two young Americans who took it upon themselves to correct public typos during a three-month road trip across the States.  And of course, there being a book in seemingly everything these days, “The Great Typo Hunt” describes Jeff Deck and Benjamin D. Herson’s mission to remove surplus apostrophes and untangle subject-verb disagreement on signs outside stores, gas stations, parks and public buildings. 

Sensitive to the charge of being overzealous pedants, they argue that public typos are about more than just a few misplaced punctuation marks. Such errors may lead the reader to get a poor impression of the writer in general, they argue, and I would absolutely agree with this statement! However, not everyone was happy with this “public service” and the majority of sign owners took a defensive posture,  with two people threatening the pair when they were about to fix a sign on the Canadian side of Niagara Falls. They were warned to “keep walking or they would make sure we didn’t walk again.”

They also ran into trouble at the Grand Canyon where they were arrested for fixing bad grammar in an official sign. A federal judge fined them $3,000 and banned them from speaking publicly about fixing typos for a year, a period that expired in August 2009. A prosecutor’s press release about the Grand Canyon case called them “self-proclaimed grammar vigilantes”, a label that was echoed in media reports but which Deck and Herson reject, arguing that they take a “kinder, gentler” approach to grammar that doesn’t blame anyone for mistakes. Deck and Herson set out to show people the error of their ways rather than just complaining about it, he said.”We are not angry grammarians,” Deck said.


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