Mighty Red Pen

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?


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.”


  1. I think if you were going to go fix that sort of stuff, you should use a Post-It Note.

    (OK, non-laminated paper signs in bathrooms, and graffiti in the subway are fair game for a Sharpie–just make sure cops aren’t watching, bcs you don’t want to get a ticket for defacing public property when you correct the apostrophe error in vulgar phrases on the tunnel walls)

    Comment by TootsNYC — August 22, 2008 @ 11:48 am | Reply

  2. I have to agree–I’ve corrected a office flier or hastily-scrawled vending machine “Its out of order” sign in my time, but seriously, defacing a sign in a National Park? Um, I think perhaps someone’s (sometwo’s?) transitioned from “Grammar* Fan” to “Grammar Stalker.”

    *and punctuation, and mechanics, and syntax, etc., etc.

    Comment by Steph — August 22, 2008 @ 1:42 pm | Reply

  3. The sign, evidently, was something other than a xerographic copy. I know in some of the parks I have visited, they have elaborately carved and painted signs in some places that date back to the days when the park rangers did such things to keep from dying of boredom during the winter. If they defaced one of those, they were destroying folk art of a sort.

    Frankly, it’s obnoxious. I support the advancement of precision and clarity in language. However, my right to be a pedant ends where the other guy’s right to the quite enjoyment of his property in ignorance begins.

    Comment by David — August 22, 2008 @ 1:52 pm | Reply

  4. They’re vandals. They got what they earned.

    Plus, English is far more hardy than their manifesto would have us believe. If it survived the punctuation wildness of the 17-18th centuries, it’ll survive the spelling errors of the 20-21st.

    Comment by The Ridger — August 23, 2008 @ 6:43 am | Reply

  5. @Ridger, the punctuation wildness? I love it! Your comment also reminds me of one of the things that interested me about the story that I forgot to mention, which is that from what I’ve been reading, whether the “perceived typos” would have been considered typos at the time the sign was made is somewhat debatable.

    Comment by mighty red pen — August 23, 2008 @ 9:08 am | Reply

  6. Yeah. Don’t let these guys near the Declaration of Independence.

    Comment by The Ridger — August 23, 2008 @ 2:58 pm | Reply

  7. Sadly, I often feel my life would be better if I carried a Sharpie around with me, but I dunno…fixing signs that are the property of the federal government? Even I wouldn’t go that far.

    Interesting to note that all but two of these posts contain at least one error. 🙂

    Comment by Monica — August 23, 2008 @ 9:31 pm | Reply

  8. i think their mission is admirable. they should have just used a pencil.

    Comment by audubon — August 24, 2008 @ 11:10 pm | Reply

  9. The dumbest part about this whole flap over correcting punctuation is that before Strunck and White codified our modern, more uniform system, there were in fact different standards and conventions in use. Same goes for the spellings of different words, ‘immense’ for instance. These jerkoffs who are so in love with their grammatical wizardry are in fact buffoons with no sense of the history of lexicography. If you go down the road of correcting arcane spellings and grammatical conventions, you should be aware of whether or not they’re actually incorrect rather than simply dated. These are children playing with a remote controlled speedboat in the harbor of a classic battleship.

    Comment by GIACOMO — August 25, 2008 @ 1:41 pm | Reply

  10. Let’s hope M.E.J. Colter’s 1930s architecture was superior to her grammar.

    When public signs are mispunctuated, the general public eventually can’t differentiate between what’s correct and what isn’t. This is especially true for newspaper writers, who should know better but are woefully incorrect.

    I say more power to Jeff and Ben. But they missed a comma.

    Comment by Margot — August 25, 2008 @ 3:55 pm | Reply

  11. “Deface” means to mar or spoil the appearance of something. I don’t think it applies to what these two did.

    Comment by danielo — August 23, 2009 @ 11:13 am | Reply

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