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.”

April 3, 2008

Never too early to get started

Filed under: Overseen,Word wars — mighty red pen @ 7:15 pm
Tags: , , ,

Three cheers for Kenton Stufflebeam. Evidently, someone’s got to proofread the signs over at the Smithsonian, and he’s just the one to do it.

ALLEGAN, Mich. – Is fifth-grader Kenton Stufflebeam smarter than the Smithsonian?

On a winter break trip with his family to the Smithsonian Institution‘s National Museum of Natural History, the 11-year-old southwestern Michigan boy noticed that a notation, in bold lettering, mistakenly identified the Precambrian as an era.

So what did young Stufflebeam do? Like the good little editor he is apparently destined to become, he wrote a comment to the Smithsonian, pointing out their error (oh, how he would make Lynne Truss proud). And they wrote back, acknowledging the error. According to the article, “The solution to the problem would not involve advanced science but rather simply painting over the word ‘era,’ the note says.”

And, in what is possibly MRP’s favorite part of our young word nerd’s story:

Excited as he was to receive the correspondence from museum officials, he couldn’t help but point out that it was addressed to Kenton Slufflebeam.

Read all about Stufflebeam v. the Smithsonian. In the meantime, someone send that boy a box of red pens. He’s going to need them.

March 10, 2008

Sticklers unite?

Filed under: Lit review — mighty red pen @ 8:14 pm
Tags: , ,

Breaking news: MRP is no longer the only word nerd on the planet that hasn’t read Lynne Truss’s Eats, Shoots and Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation.

In a nutshell, here’s my review: OMG! Right on! Seriously?! and back to OMG!

Okay, here’s the deal. On the one hand, Truss seems totally reasonable:

The descriptive sort of linguist tends to observe change in the language, note it, analyze it, and manage not to wake up screaming every night. . . . Meanwhile, at the other end of the spectrum, severely prescriptive grammarians would argue that, since they were taught at school in 1943 that you must never start a sentence with “And” or “But,” the modern world is benighted by ignorance and folly, and most of modern literature should be burned.

Somewhere between these staunch positions is where I want us to end up: staunch because we understand the advantages of being staunch; flexible because we understand the rational and historical necessity to be flexible.

And then on the other hand, she seems like a stark raving punctuation banshee who needs a time out from her red pen:

No matter that you have a PhD and have read all of Henry James twice. If you still persist in writing, “Good food at it’s best,” you deserve to be struck by lightning, hacked up on the spot, and buried in an unmarked grave.

It’s a fairly quick, interesting, and informative read, well-written and with a dry sense of humor I could appreciate. But when I got to the bits where the comma crazy let loose, I found myself wanting to grab Truss and say, “You must chill!” No wonder people seem to find word nerds so scary sometimes.

So if you’re now the last word nerd on the planet to have read Eats, Shoots and Leaves, have a go at it. You’ll learn a lot about punctuation. But “sticklers unite”? Eh, not so much.

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