Thursday, March 13, 2008

Pull Over--The Typo Police Are Coming

Finally, there’s a group of concerned citizens with enough disposable time and income to do what many of us word nerds have often daydreamed about—travel around the country correcting typos on public signs. These grammar vigilantes, known as the Typo Eradication Advancement League (or TEAL), are spending the next three months touring the U.S., armed with sticky letters and chalk, to basically to give our great nation a quick edit. What’s great about TEAL is that they seem to be approaching this project not from a place of superiority, but from a true love of words.

When it comes to grammar, I’ve always felt a little deficient. I’m terrible at identifying parts of speech, tenses, certain forms of punctuation—and please don’t ask me to diagram a sentence. I tend to rely on my ear and my editor, and look things up whenever I’m unsure. So I understand how easy it is to make a mistake. Still, there are grammar problems that have become so widespread they seem to be more of a national bad habit (like running red lights) than an isolated typo. Take the rampant misuse of the apostrophe. Somewhere along the line, someone forgot that “ ’s ” denotes possession and used it to indicate a plural noun. The problem with not correcting the mistake is that the more people see it, the more they begin to question what they know to be correct. Mob rule subverts Strunk & White. Pretty soon we are inundated with signs offering Used CD’s, Lunch Special’s, and Hot, Fresh Donut’s.

But even if we see a typo somewhere, who really wants to be the one to say anything?

Last year, I noticed a sign at our local elementary school that read “No Parking—Busses Only” (thereby declaring that particular zone not for cars, but for restaurant tables waiting to be cleared). It disturbed me that such an error would take place on school grounds. Of all the educators that had seen this sign, hadn’t any of them noticed the mistake? What does this say about the quality of the school? And what about all the people along the way that had seen the sign before it was installed—didn’t anyone think something looked odd? There have been a few times when I’ve thought about calling the school office about it, but I’ve stopped myself for fear of seeming like a nit-picking know-it-all. Besides, I think we all know how the comment is likely to be received—with indifference.

So for now I guess I’ll keep my lip buttoned and hope that a whole generation of our local school kids will learn how to spell the word “buses” correctly. Or maybe I’ll call on TEAL and see if they’d be willing to do the dirty work for me.

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