Mighty Red Pen

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.



  1. I have a complete different interpretation of Lynne Truss’s book. Did we read the same book? I thought Lynne was humorous and insightful. In fact, she didn’t actually go out and correct the signage as these two are doing. Is this a misunderstanding of English humor?

    Comment by Frank Drone — March 31, 2008 @ 11:29 am | Reply

  2. I see the point in trying to eliminate typos from edited text, but not from handwritten signs. Plus the TEAL seems mistaken on a basic point: “But slowly the once-unassailable foundations of spelling are crumbling.” It doesn’t make sense to argue that they are shoring up English from encroaching chaos when the conventions they are defending are relatively new. For most of its life in English, the apostrophe has been used to mark plurals. The standard possessive form of “it” was “it’s” thruout the 17th and 18th century.

    Comment by goofy — March 31, 2008 @ 11:44 am | Reply

  3. Hi Frank, Well, the Lynne Truss I read stood outside with an apostrophe on a stick for two weeks to protest “Two Weeks Notice” and exhorts her readers “Be a nuisance. Do something. And if possible, use a bright red pen. Send back e-mails that are badly punctuated; return letters; picket Harrods.” She’s the one who compares her reaction to bad punctuation to the stages of grieving. She’s pretty militant, I found, and a little scary.

    But you’re right, I didn’t mean to suggest that ES&L wasn’t humorous or insightful, I meant to compare the difference between “Why did the Apostrophe Protection Society not have a militant wing? Could I start one?” and “Finally . . . anger gives way to a righteous urge to perpetrate an act of criminal damage with the aid of a permanent marker,” and TEAL’s more mild-mannered approach. In a way, they really are disciples of Truss, just kinder, gentler ones. But where they geek out on punctuation vigilatism, Truss kind of whacks out.

    Comment by mightyredpen — March 31, 2008 @ 6:13 pm | Reply

  4. Jeff–Love you efforts and site. Here’s something else that you can add to help America. You can kick it off by stopping the over-use of the word “actually”. You are ate up with it, as are most Americans and English speaking Europeans.


    Comment by Guy Pierce — April 6, 2008 @ 5:49 pm | Reply

  5. Actually, you haven’t reached Jeff Deck at all, you’ve actually reached MRP, a site amused by but not affiliated with Jeff. But actually, I agree with you, and I actually think he would probably would, too. Actually.

    Comment by mightyredpen — April 6, 2008 @ 8:37 pm | Reply

  6. What a couple of dickheads

    Comment by John — August 23, 2008 @ 11:02 am | Reply

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