In the age of Banksy, anonymity, energy, and acting without permission combine to make a potent brew. Those whose work springs up in a public setting overnight, without prior announcement or transaction, are freely assumed to be passionate swashbucklers, brimming with talent and sly social commentary.
But what about an anonymous middle-aged man who roams the streets of Bristol, armed not with stencils and spray paint, but a sponge-tipped broom handle that allows him to correct the improper punctuation on local businesses’ awnings and out-of-reach signage?
The so-called "grammar vigilante," above, became an Internet sensation after a BBC reporter trailed him on one of his nightly rounds, watching him apply adhesive-backed apostrophes where needed and eradicate incorrectly placed ones with blank, color-matched stickers.
While the manager of Cambridge Motors (formerly known as Cambridge Motor’s) hailed the unknown citizen who muscled his splintery wooden sign into compliance with the King’s English, elsewhere, the backlash has been brutal and swift.
The chairman of the Queen’s English Society shares the anonymous crusader’s pain, but frowns on his uncredited execution.
The Telegraph is one of several publications to have called him a “pedant.”
And the owner of Tux & Tails, whose website persists in describing the business as a “gentlemans outfitters,” is angry over what he says will be the cost of restoring a large vinyl sign, installed less than a year ago. “It looks like bird shit,” he declared to The Bristol Post.
On this side of the pond, Erin Brenner, an instructor in the University of California San Diego Extension’s Copyediting Certificate program, comes down hard in her Copyediting blog. In her opinion, there’s nothing to be gained from publicly shaming strangers for their punctuation boo boos:
It is not a kindness—it’s abhorrent behavior…It also gives the world a misguided idea about what professional editors, who are also passionate about language, do. We don’t go around slapping our authors’ wrists in public and telling them how wrong and stupid they are.
Those with reason to fear vigilante justice for their public punctuation should be advised that the web abounds with apostrophe usage videos, one of which is above.
Watch a longer segment on the Grammar Vigilante here.