Mighty Red Pen

September 18, 2008

Taking a bite out of crime

So over at the Typo Eradication Advancement League (TEAL), grammar enthusiasts Jeff Deck and Benjamin Herson have finally posted a statement relative to their recent conviction for vandalizing National Park property in their zeal to correct perceived typos on a sign at the Grand Canyon. Here’s an excerpt:

A Statement on the Signs of our National Parks and Public Lands

There are many aspects to the ongoing task of being a responsible American citizen.  One aspect in particular is often overlooked; namely, that one should not vandalize or damage signs on the National Parks and public lands.  Such actions include but are not limited to fixing spelling mistakes on signs.  It is absolutely egotistical for one to think that one can tell others how to spell. In addition, one never knows whether a sign has historic value concealed within it.  What appears to be an ordinary sign may in fact be the work of a heroic local artist.  Some signs may be irreplaceable and unfixable.  One should ask before modifying signs, because altering signs without the permission of the owner is a crime!!

So there you have it, folks, and any would-be grammar vandal or vigilante beware: altering signs without the permission of the owner–no matter how justified you may feel your cause–is a crime. And, evidently, it is “absolutely egotistical” to even for a second think that you can tell another person how to spell. Well. Okay then.

Read the rest of TEAL’s statement.

August 22, 2008

Robin Jeff and Little Ben running through the forest

Wow, well, doesn’t this get interesting? You may remember Jeff Deck and Benjamin Herson of the Typo Eradication Advancement League (TEAL), the fellas who took a trip across country all the while documenting their efforts to correct typos across the USA.

According to an article on Boston.com, “Men Banned from National Parks after Vandalism” (a rather imprecise headline in and of itself), they’re in big trouble now:

PHOENIX—A man from Somerville, Mass., and his friend who went around the country this year removing typographical errors from public signs have been banned from national parks after vandalizing a historic marker at the Grand Canyon.

Jeff Michael Deck of Somerville, and Benjamin Douglas Herson, of Virginia Beach, Va., pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Flagstaff after damaging a rare, hand-painted sign in Grand Canyon National Park.

They were sentenced to a year’s probation, during which they cannot enter any national park, and were ordered to pay restitution.

As of this posting, the Typo Eradication Advancement League blog (which was formerly chock full of examples and discussion of their work) just cryptically says:

Typo Eradication Advancement League
Statement on the signage of our National Parks and public lands to come

Interested to see how this develops. Exhortations by Lynne Truss to the contrary, MRP has always been a little leery of this approach to advancing good grammar and punctuation. While I admire their gumption and their passion for the cause, let’s call a spade a spade: defacing someone else’s property is vandalism.

That being said, I’d be interested to hear from you what you think. Are Deck and Herson the Robin Hoods of grammar or are they just giving us word nerds a bad name?

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Update: Thanks to this post at Language Log, you can evidently see the sign in question here. You can also read more about this case in an article from the Arizona Republic by Dennis Wagner, “Typo Vigilantes Answer to Letter of Law.”

May 27, 2008

A tyranny of style

Filed under: Grammar goddess,Wordsworthy — mighty red pen @ 7:38 pm
Tags: , , , ,

Well, Jan Freeman chimes in on the issue of “grammar nazis” with “No to Appeasement: Pushing Back against the Grammar Cops.”

Unfortunately, most usage writers also counsel submission. So your boss, or teacher, or editor thinks “over” can’t mean “more than” – why not humor the knucklehead? Why ask for trouble? So cowardice perpetuates the usage folklore. And one day you find the Usage Big Brother installed on your laptop, messing with your head.

Bad enough to kowtow to a misinformed boss or professor, but obeying a half-witted grammar checker – surely that’s not the American way?

None of this (I suppose I must say) is an argument against teaching standard English. But writing is a complex and difficult craft; by focusing on trivia (mythical or not), we only reinforce the silly notion that writing well is mostly a matter of avoiding mistakes.

Read Freeman’s entire essay here.

Freeman’s comments called to mind a recent post by the Typo Eradication Advancement League. You may remember the “Typo Hunt Across America” guys who traveled across the United States not just documenting, but correcting, typos. They had an interesting post the other day, “What Is Not a Typo.” One thing that is not a typo is:

Variations from one’s own Style Manual.  You may have memorized the Chicago Style rule that lists must contain a comma before the “and” (e.g., “I purchased rifles, bandoliers, and grenades at the military surplus store”), but that doesn’t mean that a sentence by someone operating under AP Style (”… rifles, bandoliers and grenades …”) is wrong.  Even if you’ve always used the AP Style fashion for s-ending possessives (Indiana Jones’ stubble) in your own writing, you still can’t declare that somebody going by Chicago (Indiana Jones’s stubble) is incorrect.  Often the problem with this one is that many people are unaware that more than one accepted approach exists.  They would be surprised indeed at the subtle wars that are waged among the adherents of the various manuals.  . . . But no one manual can lay claim to, say, a random sign in a storefront window.

Read the rest of “What Is Not a Typo.”

I’ve been known to call my editorial style — where it applies to my job — slash and burn. It’s my job to ruthlessly apply the house style guide and Chicago Manual of Style to pieces that I’m editing. But in my day-to-day existence as a word nerd, I prefer a kinder, gentler approach, so no, I didn’t send you a copy of the Chicago Manual of Style as a Memorial Day present just because you failed to use serial commas in your last e-mail to me. Not that I noticed . . .

March 29, 2008

Have typo? Will travel.

Well, check out Jeff Deck and Benjamin Herson, two young grammarsnappers who have devoted their spring to the Cause. According to the Boston Globe:

     Jeff Deck and Benjamin Herson have a different objective in mind as they motor across the country this spring in their ’97 Nissan Sentra.

     They chase the misplaced apostrophe, the disagreeing subject and verb.

     They seek, in short, to do for America’s public signage what spell-check software has done for interoffice e-mail: smarten it up and make it easier on the eye. Their weapons: Wite-Out, markers, ink pens, tape, and nerves of steel.

Irritated by the ever-present onslaught of typos in the world (and who isn’t, really?), these two have boldly chosen to go beyond the blogosphere with their grievances (although they do have a blog, natch). Instead, they are using their apparently abundantly free time to drive around the country confronting punctuation and grammar scofflaws with the error of their ways.

MRP normally eschews this kind of confrontational behavior unless specifically invited to opine on someone’s grammatical abilities (for example, in my job as an editor) but these guys seem to have a good attitude about it:

     Deck, speaking by phone from somewhere in the Deep South as he and Herson rumble westward, says the point of the trip isn’t to wag fingers at those who commit or ignore signage errata. It’s to raise public awareness around an issue – a plague, really – that typically elicits a blank stare or shoulder shrug, if that.

     “We’re not going after people in a self-righteous manner, like fashion police. Or trying to make them look stupid,” Deck said. “Instead, we’re addressing specific errors like confusing ‘its’ for ‘it’s’ or ‘you’re” for ‘your.’

Unlike the rage-driven prescriptivist vigilantism favored by Lynne Truss in Eats, Shoots and Leaves, Jeff and Benjamin are humorous and insightful as they engage with people across the country. Read more about their excellent adventure at the Typo Eradication Advancement League.

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