TheGrammarVandal.com: A Full Feature in the Boston Sunday Globe!

The story is FANTASTIC, and the writer, Danielle Dreilinger, did such a great job. THANK YOU, DANIELLE!

If it’s still Sunday by the time you read this, go buy a copy of the Globe if you live in Boston, Brookline, Cambridge or Somerville! It’s in the City Weekly section.

Here is the story, taken directly from boston.com:

Stop sign travesties!

Self-proclaimed “grammar vandal” goes after public mistakes that grate

By Danielle Dreilinger, Globe Correspondent July 15, 2007

The ads said “run easy,” but they made Kate McCulley’s teeth clench.

The 22-year-old grammarian stared at Reebok’s Marathon-themed posters on her commute from Somerville to Fort Point this spring, on her way to her job as a research assistant at a concierge services company. “RUN EASY BOSTON,” the ads announced, inviting locals to . . . do what?

The question began to haunt her.

“Should I run an easy Boston? Should I run, and is Boston a promiscuous city?” she riffed on her travel blog, katesadventures.com. Her conclusion: “Without punctuation, we have nothing.”

It didn’t help her mood that she was reading “Eats, Shoots & Leaves,” the best-selling book about grammar that tickles readers with its gentle wit but hits hard about the sorry state of language usage. Her copy included a packet of punctuation stickers as a do-it-yourself correction kit.

The Reebok sign should have read “run easily,” McCulley observed, and it should have had a comma after “easily,” before “Boston.”

(Grammar note: “Easy” is an adjective, which must never be used to describe a verb, such as “run”; that task calls for the adverb “easily.” A sentence addressing someone directly, such as “Run easily,” must separate that address from the party being addressed — in this case, Boston — with a comma.)

On May 29, a memorable date for its linguistic personal import, McCulley cracked. The mild-mannered blogger ducked inside (well, next to) a bus shelter on Summer Street by South Station, pulled out her handy sheet of comma stickers, and made one small correction:”RUN EASY, BOSTON.”

She had become the Grammar Vandal.

McCulley’s credentials? She’s an aspiring writer who majored in English in college and grew up loving to read and spell. Her reference book? “Most of what I go by is instinct,” she said, though she holds the “Associated Press Stylebook” close to her heart.

In the week after McCulley’s small act of rebellion, Buzzfeed.com, a blog that tracks hot Web topics, chose her as a top “grammar Nazi” blogger. People reposted the item on the popular Newsvine blog.

McCulley realized some people did care about language — enough for her to start a new blog, www.thegrammarvandal.com.

The Reebok ad has since disappeared, but the comma remains on the bus shelter, a vestige of the beginnings of McCulley’s crusade around Boston for truth, usage, and the grammatical way.McCulley has always noticed grammar errors, she said. The only difference is that now when she sees one, “I take a picture and post it on my blog,” she said.

It’s a question of standards. “It’s as if we’ve resigned ourselves” to errors, she said. “Are we giving up everything to LOL and BRB?” (That’s “laugh out loud” and “be right back,” for those who are completely out of it.) She does use “LOL” in text messages but takes the extra time to tap correct grammar into that tiny keypad. “Twice as long, twice as right!” she chirps.

McCulley seems completely unfazed by the responsibility she’s taken upon herself. She’ll debate finer points: Should Boston RealtyNet hyphenate “full service”? And she admits even she can’t be perfect. Several responses to her original vandalism blog post ing criticized its grammar. She considered the points “debatable.”

Nothing is immune to the Grammar Vandal’s keen eye, not even the blue T-shirt she wore on a recent walk to point out grammar errors along Newbury Street. McCulley couldn’t possibly walk around wearing a shirt saying “Without Me Its Just Aweso.” So she took a Sharpie to the shirt, adding a comma after “me” and an apostrophe to “it’s.”

“Of course, I’m obsessive,” she said.

On her walk around Back Bay, the grammar vigilante’s judgments were sure and steady. Though Newbury Street is considered among the classiest of thoroughfares in an educated city, its signs are riddled with errors.

Newbury Visions riled McCulley with its sign for “eye exams contact lenses.” As with the Reebok ad, the she felt the sign cried out for separation between its elements.

Another peeve surfaced several blocks down, at the Boloco restaurant. ” ‘Everyday’ can be one word, but only as an adjective meaning ‘usual’ or ‘typical,’ ” McCulley explained, not “each day.” Boloco’s sign almost certainly didn’t mean to say its “breakfast burritos” are ordinary, but that they are on the menu daily.

Still, why worry when people probably understand from the sign that they can get a daily fix of tasty burritos at Boloco, or recognize the phrases “eye exams” and “contact lenses?”
McCulley bristled at the question. “Getting the idea across is the very basic, the minimum,” she said.

Continuing down Newbury, McCulley pointed out a discrepancy between “Alexanders” and “Alexander’s” on a beauty parlor (the possessive apostrophe is needed, unless the shop is for more than one Alexander). Questioned later, store manager Lourdes Lopez said the proper spelling of the salon is actually “Alexander’s,” after the original owner.

McCulley judged Avante Gard Medical Spa’s name plain “wrong.” (Should be “Avant-Garde.”) She allowed the period at the end of “Betsey Johnson.” to stand, though, citing “artistic license.”A very few stores earned gold stars. BeBe Nail & Skin Salon hyphenated “walk-ins.” Co So Artists’ Gallery formed the plural possessive correctly. “That is all too rare these days,” McCulley said. “It’s perfect!”

What really got McCulley’s goat wasn’t an error here or there by a single person but mistakes made by businesses. Shouldn’t they have editors to check ads and signs? She paused in front of the Madura linens store at the corner of Dartmouth and Newbury streets and pointed out a shiny, printed sign advertising a sale “On marked items only, while supplies last curent prices.” (Proper spelling: current; comma needed after “last.”)

Store manager Victoria Whitney sighed when asked about the sign. Madura is a French company, she said, and the sign was custom-made in France. By the time it arrived here, it was too late to fix the error.

The worst offender in all of Boston, according to the Vandal: Lush, a purveyor of earthy-yet-expensive soaps and cosmetics. McCulley directed a reporter to peek through the window at a blackboard inside. It read:

‘HAVE FUN THIS IS AN ADULT CANDY STORE.’

McCulley could hardly contain her disdain. “Have fun, exclamation point; this is an adult candy store, period,” she said.

All along the walk, the Vandal watched for opportunities to use her trusty comma stickers (which conveniently double as apostrophes). She couldn’t reach the Alexanders sign unless she hung off a stairway. The Madura sign was behind glass. McCulley knelt and drew a connecting bracket on a CVS placard announcing openings for “over night” staff, making it into a single word.

Finally she zeroed in the European Watch Co. The sign was accessible. The store was closed. And the sign read “New Pre-Owned Vintage.” It was her pet bugaboo: the missing comma.McCulley climbed up on the stone ledge and quietly adjusted the phrase as oblivious shoppers walked by. She stood back and admired the sign, which now said “New, Pre-Owned, Vintage.”

“There you go,” she said. “That is beautiful.”

That beauty might be fleeting. When alerted to the fix, manager Albert Ganjei noticed the black stickers didn’t match the white text. He might order some white commas, he said.

But the life of a Grammar Vandal can be lonely. Some friends “have stopped sending me e-mails for fear I will correct them,” she said. One acquaintance followed an e-mail to her calling Mitt Romney’s sons “hott” with a second message explaining she was purposely adding the second “t” to emphasize the hotness of the young men. The postscript made McCulley feel “like a monster!” she said.

Hence the blog, where she hopes to find like-minded souls.

If one passer by learns how to use a comma from her edits, McCulley said, “then I think my job is” — she paused and corrected herself — “well, not done.”

PHOTO GALLERY: The ‘grammar vandal’

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22 responses to “TheGrammarVandal.com: A Full Feature in the Boston Sunday Globe!

  1. Apostrophe's own nothing

    The sisterhood of the gritted teeth and whipped-our Sharpie(R) grows!

  2. You are awesome! I get annoyed whenever I see incorrect spelling/grammar on signs throughout this well-educated city.
    I advise you stay away from Chinatown though… you may run out of S stickers :)

  3. I’m so glad to know that I’m not alone in this world. I too am a grammar vandal. Drove by a sign yesterday for a “Yart Sale” and almost stopped traffic for the horror of it all.

    Major props to the book, “Eats, Shoots and Leaves” as one of the best ever. (Yes, I gasped at the first paragraph!)

    Thank you for this… thank you, thank you, thank you for putting importance back into grammar and punctuation.

  4. Take a walk down Athenaeum St. in East Cambridge. There are at least three typos on three different permanent signs. Brutal!

  5. Keep it up!!

    /kff

  6. I’m only just merely delving into your blog, and thus have much more to read, but I think it’s so cool that your [sic...get it? :)] doing so much in protest of poor public grammar. I’m a science major, although my mother converted me into a grammar nut, and, in my estimation, the English language is going straight down the drain via text messaging and e-mail. Example: “u r my bestest friz-iend.” My biggest grammatical pet peeves are the it’s/its misuse and the since/because violation.

    That being said, I think you should cut people some slack and refrain from (no offense intended) being so anal about something as simple as a street sign. Yes, our government officials are morons, but use your positive energy to be proactive, via some initiative which helps teach proper grammar to the Commonwealth’s children.

    Truth be told, however, I would be more than willing to help out as a Grammar Ninja if you need help in Cambridge.

  7. my hero!

  8. I am sorry. This all seems a bit lame.

  9. Dennis Fischman

    Rona and I are so proud that The Grammar Vandal rents from us! Keep up the good work–but don’t trust Eats, Shoots and Leaves. It’s more amusing than accurate!

  10. Thank you! May you never run out of stickers.

  11. Thanks for fixing that Tufts sign, you car-punchin’ pyscho. It drove me nuts for years, but I never did anything about it.

  12. thesouthender

    Their’s something to be said for good grammar!! I love this blog – keep up the good work. I wish you could stick your apostrophes on the tv newscasters of Boston. Have you noticed an increase in the use of the word “their” to describe the possessive of one person, i.e., “The suspect was seen runnning away from Tremont Street. Their weapon was found nearby…”

    Also you should look into unnnecessary quotation marks. Many stores and restaurants will use them in the oddest places. We will “dry-clean” your shirts. Try our “cheeseburgers.” We are open “all night.”

    Its enough to drive you and I crazy!!

  13. I am bookmarking this website. It’s so good to know we Grammar Sticklers (yes, I read “Eats, Shoots and Leaves” too) are not as alone in the world as we think we are!

    Now, how about launching a guerrilla war against the rampant misuse of reflexive pronouns? “John and myself will report to the committee.” Aaaaarrrggghhhh!! No, “John and I” will report to the committee.

    We will prevail – and make our poor unappreciated grade-school English teachers proud!!

  14. Jodi Goalstone

    I love what you’re doing; it has inspired me to go beyond my first blog effort at

    http://wayweword.blogspot.com/

    If you need a “correspondent” in the Southwest, I’m glad to help.

  15. You’re my new hero.

    I’ve long wanted to run a feature in our paper spotlighting grammatical and punctuation errors, but the consensus was we’d cheese off advertisers (some of the worst offenders).

    So I must content myself with directing my blog readers to your site. Probably won’t have the same impact, but oh, well…

  16. Self-proclaimed “grammar vandal” goes after public mistakes that grate

    Ironically, I read this as meaning that you used to be a grammar vandal, but stopped after having made grating public mistakes.

  17. What a great article! Bless you for your dedication. It may seem like you’re fighting a losing battle, but your efforts resulted in a nice article in the “Boston Globe.” Many will read this article and begin thinking about their own grammar. They will perhaps be a little more careful in the future, and lucid communication–this quality that separates us from baboons and Republicans–shall not perish from this Earth.

  18. The last paragraph in the Globe article referred to a passer by. The preferred spelling is passerby, with passer-by being an alternative choice. Passer by is incorrect.

  19. It’s so nice to find like-minded people! I was contemplating an act of grammar vandalism only yesterday, but I didn’t go through with it. However, the article and your blog have inspired me; next time I find myself confronted with that situation, you can bet I’ll have my Sharpie marker out in a flash. :)

  20. The story in the Globe made me laugh out loud. Bravo to you! I’m going to link to your blog and hope that my Platinum Elite readers appreciate your fixing the many egregious grammatical errors around Boston.

    I posted an odd sign on my blog this week, actually. Though grammatically correct, “Pet Area In Rear” can be interpreted a few ways :)

  21. When I first read this, I thought it sounded kind of cool. But then, after more thought, I realized the error in my judgment.

    First, you’re vandalizing. Pure and simple. If I were a store owner and saw any type of grafitti on my property, and discovered who applied said grafitti, I would press charges in a heartbeat. Why can’t you just talk to the store owner and advise them as to the error of their grammar? Or approach the cities of Medford/Slumerville (I’m not sure which one “Professors Row” is on. Oooo, I should be tarred and feathered; I just ended a sentence with a preposition).

    Second, Do you really have nothing better to do than working on developing a future coronary by being so offended by a misplaced apostrophe or a wrong set of a pair of quotation marks?

    Yes, it’s annoying to see such errors, and when I do see such typos, it makes me grit my teeth and cringe. But ten minutes later, I’ve completely forgotten about it.

    Try channeling your grammatical anger towards the sad state of public education, or the horrid phenomenon that is politics. Or exercise your passion to try to provide an answer to the prevention of youth violence. A kid isn’t going to die from a missing comma or an errant hyphen.

    Please take a deep breath and consider yourself lucky that you have the luxury to waste your time pissing yourself off at such a menial thing.

    Although, in theory, I admire your end goal, that goal is not really that important at the end of the day.

    I am a nice guy, though, so if I win at Foxwoods tonight, I’ll bail you out when you get arrested.

  22. Have you seen the Suffolk University ads on the T proclaiming “no goal is insurmountable”? I realize this error is lexical rather than grammatical, but it certainly looks bad.

    On another topic: According to Light on the Hill, the history of Tufts by Russell Miller, the campus street has always been called “Professors Row” [sic]. It was a popular address for faculty, and until quite recently certain administrators had homes there. It should, of course, have been called “Professors’ Row,” since it does take its name from the line-up of donnish domiciles.

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