Now I’m a Grammar Criminal, Evidently

I just had my first brush with the law for the sake of grammar! I’m proud that it happened so soon.

I’ve been taking some wonderful long walks lately. I go by Tufts sometimes, and the sign for “Professors Row” has always bothered me. This is the row of the professors, therefore it should be Professors’ Row.

Do you think an apostrophe was in place?

Please.

Anyways, I originally went up there to change the sign yesterday, but realized that I was far too short to do so. I had also misplaced my comma stickers, so there really was no point. I went back today with a folding chair (I couldn’t find my stepladder) and my five-inch platform slides, and I had found my packet of punctuation stickers.

I tried to reach it, and I was about three inches too short to reach the sign. Hmmmm. Clearly, I would need to find someone to help me.

That area of town isn’t short on walkers, so I grabbed the first guy I saw. He was about thirty, bald and perhaps 6’2″ or so.

Me: “Hi! I was wondering if you could help me with something. I need to get a sticker up there. I’m too short, even with these.”

I show him my platform slides. He looks at me skeptically.

Me: “I actually run a grammar blog — it’s thegrammarvandal.com. It’s a great blog, really. I go around and correct grammar. The Globe is doing a feature on it this week. It’s great stuff.”

He stares.

Me: “You see that sign? Professors Row is missing an apostrophe. Could you just help me put it up there? I’ve got that chair right over there.”

Guy: “Sure.”

Me: “Oh, thank you so much. I appreciate it.”

Guy comes over and stands on the chair. He can reach the sign — and he starts putting the apostrophe between the R and the S in Professors!!

Me (shrieking): “NO! NO! YOU CAN’T DO THAT!! THAT’S NOT WHERE THE APOSTROPHE GOES!! THIS IS THE ROW OF THE PROFESSORSSSSSSSSS!”

Guy: “Oh, sorry. What do I do?”

Me: “AFTER THE S! AFTER THE S!”

He pulls it off and sticks it on the end. It’s flimsy and part of the black has come off, making it look messy. I do not like messy. It looks terrible. I’m going to ask him to rip it off and put on a new one instead….

And then a police cruiser stops, the words Tufts Police emblazoned on one side. (Side thought: I wonder how many years it will be before Fairfield decides to change its name from Public Safety to Fairfield University Police, spending another few grand in a pointless fashion.)

Cop (yelling): “What are you doing?”

Me: “Just fixing the sign.”

Cop: “What are you doing to it?!”

Me: “Officer, this is incorrect grammar. Oh, and I don’t even know this guy! I pulled him off the street!”

Guy looks more terrified than the average man when confronted by a cop in a Tufts Police cruiser.

Cop: “Are you together?”

Me: “No! He was on the street! And tall! I’m too short to reach the sign!”

Guy jumps on the chair, pulls the sticker off, and hands it to me.

Guy: “Sorry.”

Guy takes off like a bat out of hell.

Me: “Officer, I was just trying to correct the sign. Don’t you see that an apostrophe is missing?”

Cop: “Yeah, before the S?”

Me: “NO! Not before the S! We’re not talking about one professor here! This is the row of multiple professors, meaning that the apostrophe should be AFTER the S! Let me tell you about the blog. It’s called thegrammarvandal.com, and the Boston Globe will be doing a feature on it that will appear in the City Weekly section this Sunday….”

Cop: “Okay, okay.”

Me: “I just need to fix it. Now my tall guy is gone.”

Cop: “Well, I hope you find another one.”

Cop drives away.

I walk around and look for somebody else who is significantly taller than me. There are fewer walkers by now. There’s a baseball game going on in the field, but only three girls are watching, and they all seem to be short.

I walk around for a few minutes, then see three college-aged students — two guys and a girl — who each appear to be around six feet tall. I wave to them.

Me: “Hi, I was wondering if you guys could help me. I’m in need of a tall person who can help me put a sticker up on a sign.”

They stare.

Me: “I run a grammar blog. It’s called thegrammarvandal.com, and the Boston Sunday Globe is doing a feature on it that will be appearing this Sunday in the City Weekly section. I go around and I correct grammar errors. You see that sign for Professors Row? It’s missing an apostrophe. Is there any way you could help me?”

Cool Guy: “Sure.”

Me: “I appreciate this so much. Thank you. It’s that sign up there — the one with the chair perched next to it. A cop stopped me earlier, but don’t worry. He’s gone now.”

They stare.

Me: “Yeah, he said I could do it, as long as I had another tall guy. You should have seen the guy who helped me before — he got so scared, he ran away! Ha. But it’s cool, since the cop said so. Good times.”

We walk.

Me: “It drives me crazy that the apostrophe isn’t there.”

Cool Guy’s Male Friend: “Yeah, between the R and the S, right?”

Me: “No!! This is the row of the PROFESSORS! Multiple professors! The apostrophe goes AFTER the S!”

Cool Guy’s Male Friend retreats, probably thinking that I’m some kind of psycho. We eventually get to the sign.

Cool Guy: “So right after the S?”

Me: “Yes, right after the S. That would be perfect. Thank you so much, again.”

Cool Guy puts the sticker up. It’s a bit askew, and it’s not facing the direction that gets the most traffic, but I don’t care. I’m not going to ask him to put it on the other side, too, even though it will continue to drive me crazy. He has to work to get the sticker up, and he’s done enough.

The end result:


Beautiful. Absolutely beautiful.

And, just so you can see how tall this sign was:

What a day. I’m exhausted from all the effort. But I’ve made another difference, and I am educating the general populace about grammar. Even if nobody ever sees it, I still gave a lesson in grammar to Guy, Cop, Cool Guy, Cool Guy’s Male Friend and possibly Cool Guy’s Female Friend (even though she said nothing the whole time). I hope that everyone goes on to use apostrophes appropriately in their respective lives.

If Cool Guy is reading this, thanks for the help, man!

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29 responses to “Now I’m a Grammar Criminal, Evidently

  1. I don’t think there needs to be an apostrophe there. Similar to your MGM Players Club post, both “players” and “professors” are attributive, not possessive. It is a club made up of players, not a club owned by players and a row made up of professors, not necessarily owned by them….Also its a street sign so there’s really no need for grammar…. maybe its a complete sentence explaining that all the professors are on the crew team.

  2. I miss you.

    This is fabulous.

  3. Kelly Anne’s brother here – this is fantastic. I’m adding you to my blog’s sidebar. And my Google Reader. You’re a grammar superhero.

  4. ps let’s pretend i forgot to put an apostrophe in “its a street sign” in my previous comment as some kind of comical twist….in reality, my grammar is pretty terrible, but I am fine with that

  5. You are, indeed, a grammar superhero. Though may I vandalize you and say that “AnywayS” is not a word? (I’m saying this with politeness and respect, which is not being conveyed through the typed words. Please believe me!) So many people used “towards” and “anyways” instead or the correct versions (“anyway” and “toward”) that they put them in the dictionary as “nonstandard” or slang, even though they’re not the correct words! (Those weak bastards…) I think this is one of the most common mistakes in grammar, right next to “further” & “farther.” Just thought I’d offer a little help – from one grammar lover to another. :) Keep up the good work. I’ll be reading!

  6. so I have some official details about apostrophe usage from the Chicago Manual of Style, 7.27, pp. 284-85

    “The line between a possessive and a noun used attributively (i.e. as an adjective) is sometimes fuzzy, especially in the plural. Although terms such as “employees’ cafeteria” sometimes appear without an apostrophe, Chicago dispenses with the apostrophe only in proper names or where there is clearly no possessive meaning. Examples: taxpayers’ association children’s rights, a boy’s club, BUT Diners Club, Department of Veterans Affairs, a housewares sale….”

    I think we can defintiely add “Players Club” to that list of non-apostrophes and “Professors Row” would also appear to be in that catagory as I would consider a street name to be a “proper name.”

    What say you, Grammar Vandal?

  7. I say that the apostrophe is necessary. If we keep going along this path, there will soon be no apostrophes at all.

    I prefer the AP Style to Chicago.

    Thank you for all your comments!

  8. “Professors Row” is nothing. Once when I was walking across the campus of the University of Cincinnati, my attention was caught by a sign saying: “Teachers [sic] College.” I snorted derisively, assuming that the person in charge of making the sign had been incompetent in the notation of possessives. Silly me. It turned out that that is the actual name of the school of education there. It also turns out that the school of education at Columbia University has the same name, so punctuated (or rather unpunctuated).

    So not only the makers of street signs but the very institutions that teach our teachers have apparently said: “I can’t figure out where to put the apostrophe. Oh, well, I’ll just leave it out!”

  9. Hallelujah! At last, someone else who really cares about grammar! I thought I was the only one left in this state … keep it up, girl!

  10. I love it! Can I follow you around, *removing* misplaced apostrophes? Please? ;)

  11. What a great idea. There are so many signs that need grammatical adjustment.

  12. Hi Kate,

    I am a Bostonian living in the UK. I read the Boston Globe article about you and had to check out your website. Fabulous! It is so nice to know that I am not alone.

    American English is generally considered inferior here (the old Star Trek, “to boldly go” is ALWAYS wheeled out). My friends tease me when European contacts ask for my advice when writing in English (“don’t ask her, she’s American, she doesn’t even speak English”, lol).

    But a poor grasp of grammar is endemic here, too. Tesco, the largest supermarket chain in the UK, has an advertising slogan “Every Little Helps”. I just don’t know where to begin with that gem…

  13. I loved reading about your obsession since I’m the same way. I earned the title “grammar nazi” on a music newsgroup and can’t help but correct people when they say things like “the book is for Bob and I”. When some teenagers asked if I could “take a picture of my friends and I”, I couldn’t let it slide. She asked if I was an English teacher, alas I missed my calling. All the people who confuse it’s for its, the people who add apostrophes on plurals, it’s getting worse. Altho (yes I know) I do admit to using “gonna”, “nite” and “thru”.

  14. I was driving up the New Hampshire seacoast last night, just a few hours after reading your blog, and I saw the exit for Portsmouth. I joked to myself that I should stop the car and “vandalize” the sign until it read “Port’s Mouth,” and it thus hit me what’s wrong with your approach to Professors Row. Right or wrong, that’s the official name of the street, and it makes no more sense to “correct” it than to correct Centre Street in Danvers to “Center” or Newtowne Court in Cambridge to “New Town.”

    So while I bemoan the illiteracy that bestowed “Professors Row” on that street in the first place, the name on the sign IS the name of the street.

  15. Hello,
    I just heard your interview on NPR’s Talk of the Nation. I would like to point out that, in addition to the added comma, the “Run Easy Boston” sign should also read, “Run EASILY, Boston.” Also, Kate should be careful not to use the non-grammatical, slang expression, “I was like, o my God,” when presenting herself as a grammarian to the public. Thanks.
    Lynn in Merced.

  16. Tufts isn’t the only university where poor English skills are on display. Check out http://www.ou.edu/cas/slis/NewSite/about/PhotoTour/PhotoTour2.html. (If you are wary of unsolicited links, here’s the text that describes the picture: “The Norman campus of the University of Oklahoma is known for its park like setting. This plaque outside the School of Library and Information Studies proclaims that ‘The Spirit of Learning is a Lasting Frontier.’”) The problem with this plaque is style rather than grammar, but I’m sure the AP Stylebook would not approve.

    I don’t want to get fired, but I’m tempted to spray paint over “The Spirit of” and and leave a poster that reads “mixed metaphor – F.”

  17. < (Having studied abroad in Florence, it was a dream come true -->

    Kate, Kate, how could you post this dangling participle on your grammar blog?!

  18. I heard your interview today on NPR. You spoke of a sign that bothered you because of a grammatical error: Run Easy Boston. I thought the error you were going to point out was the inappropriate use of an adjective to describe a verb, rather than the use of an adverb (i.e., Run Easily, Boston). Instead you pointed out the missing comma.

    Don’t you think it’s time we brought back the correct use of adverbs into the English language, such as in “Drive slowly,” “Eat healthily,” etc. etc.

  19. There’s a sign near a school near my house, and it says “Busses pull forward”. It’s a school, for goodness sakes! Will they at least spell it right next to a school?

  20. Dear Kate,

    I enjoyed your NPR interview.
    I can only assume you have read and perhaps been inspired by the recent book, Eats Shoots and Leaves. It was written by a kindred spirit of yours in UK.
    Incidentally, “Gone Missing” was imported from England several years ago.
    I hope you can accept a modest suggestion. Please listen to your interview on NPR and observe that you have overused and misused the word “like” on at least a few occasions. not withstanding I do support your crusade. Thank you.

    Karl elves@treeblocks.com

  21. I hate to bring this up, because I really admire your rogue-like approach to improving grammar and I can’t compete with you on your knowledge on commas and punctuation, but I noticed in your blog about Professors Row that you said “taller than me” when it should be ‘taller than I’. I also wholeheartedly agree with the other commenter on the widespread misuse, or rather, non-use of adverbs. You should write a blog, if you haven’t already, on the misuse of the words ‘I’, ‘me’, and ‘myself’. Apparently most people think they are interchangeable.

  22. I’m all for adverbs being used correctly but sometimes I think when people say ‘drive safe’ or ‘drive careful’ it can be construed to mean that the driver should drive in a state of being careful or safe, as in ‘be safe’ or ‘be careful’. It may be a stretch but it helps me cope with hearing it so often.

  23. I heard you on NPR yesterday and wanted to make a brief comment. While I admire your intent, I do think you might benefit from joining Toastmasters. If you did, you’d soon learn that saying, “ya know” as often as you say it, is very poor grammar. Also, starting sentences with “Um” is not exactly the best way to begin a sentence either.

    I try my best with grammar, yet admit I’m far from perfect. I often have the same pet peeves as you do. However,”ya know” sprinkled in every every few sentences is my biggest one!

  24. My own precious grammar peeves (thank you mom) are nothing compared to your’s GV. You are inspiring and funny, and so will share your blog with my family & friends.

  25. “anyways”

  26. I am catching up on my NPR listening and just heard the show. I have to comment, even though I know this may never be read. My work involves road naming and I must say that we have some road names that technically require apostrophes; however, we cannot use them. The reason — the computer systems that the 911 centers use do not allow for any punctuation in the names of roads. The road name on the sign must match the name in the system, so no punctuation on the sign. It is all for public safety, so I think you should relax on this one — unless you truly favor grammar over public safety. If you want to complain to someone, complain to Motorola. They are the company that makes the 911 center database software.

  27. Anonymous 4:57,

    I had absolutely no idea.

    Thank you for bringing this to my attention — and don’t worry, of COURSE I consider public safety to be more important than correct grammar!

    I also read every comment I get. :-)

  28. I think you might get better results if you don’t lead people to think that you’re doing this to be a “vandal”.

  29. hi! i was just wondering if saying “i’ve got” incorrect? i’ve been battling that it’s wrong forever and i want to make sure before going on with it and i figured you’d be the best to ask. thanks!

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