Meet the “Grammar Vigilante,” Hell-Bent on Fixing Grammatical Mistakes on England’s Storefront Signs

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.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

“Weird Al” Yankovic Releas­es “Word Crimes,” a Gram­mar Nerd Par­o­dy of “Blurred Lines”

Cor­mac McCarthy’s Three Punc­tu­a­tion Rules, and How They All Go Back to James Joyce

Steven Pinker Iden­ti­fies 10 Break­able Gram­mat­i­cal Rules: “Who” Vs. “Whom,” Dan­gling Mod­i­fiers & More

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is an author, illus­tra­tor, the­ater mak­er and Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine.  Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

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