Letter to the Editor….

Grammar stickler Kate McCulley of Somerville points out a violation on a Newbury Street sign this month. (DINA RUDICK/GLOBE STAFF)

There’s a new letter to the editor in the Globe about my grammar vandalism. It didn’t appear in the print edition, only the online edition. Here it is:

July 29, 2007

When I read the article about “Grammar Vandal” Kate McCulley (“Stop sign travesties!,” July 15, City Weekly), I was mildly annoyed, but decided not to write because I was sure plenty of letters would pour in about the elitist attitude of both the author and subject of the article.

Sadly, the only letters I saw published a week later had to do with the fact that the Grammar Vandal was not as much of a grammar expert as we had been led to believe.

While I thought it was amusing that she should get a taste of her own medicine, I was surprised that the Globe had not received any letters taking her to task for the way she goes about her hobby.

Language is at its best when it is used to express complex ideas and deeply felt emotions. We can be thankful that words exist when by exchanging them, we understand other people better, or when conversations help guide us through life with a deeper connection to our surroundings than we otherwise could have had.

People are complicated; the rules of grammar can only dictate what is acceptable to the pedantic, but never what is emotionally correct to the speaker.

And what good is language if a speaker cannot bend and twist it whichever way he or she wants? The fact that my wife understands when I ask her to “close the light” is not an indication that “we’ve resigned ourselves” to errors, but that the English we speak has been influenced by the languages of our childhoods.

Immigrants and children of immigrants will probably never speak Ms. McCulley’s English; in fact, neither will most Americans.

The rules of language change depending on who is talking. If a business wants to call itself the Avante Gard Medical Spa, what gives Ms. McCulley the authority to say it is wrong?

If the owners of Avante Gard stated in the newspaper that “Kate” is the incorrect spelling of her name, I’m sure she would be irritated, and she would have every right to be.

The rules of grammar — just like the rules of almost everything in our society — were mostly written by the cultural elite. So now those rules are being challenged every day by people of all races and ages, and Ms. McCulley and the Globe try their best to persuade us to click our tongues about it.

GILES LI
Brookline

Hmmm.

You know, I’d like to clear something up about the Avante Gard sign. Originally, I hadn’t picked that out. I don’t go after proper names, even if they’re spelled incorrectly. That sign wasn’t in the original list I made when I scouted Newbury Street for errors.

I caved in to peer pressure.

The people with whom I was walking noticed the sign and started taking pictures of it. They then asked me if that was the correct spelling, and if it should have been spelled Avant-Garde.

I said that it should have been. To me, it seems like it would be more likely that someone would spell the words incorrectly by accident than somebody would spell it wrong for aesthetic purposes.

Honestly, I regret that that particular example was used in the story. It’s really a weak example compared to the dozens of the errors that I found on Newbury Street alone. And I find it no surprise that a disgruntled reader would use that one weak example and ignore the rest of the rest of the work in the magazine.

Now, Giles….

I think that you missed the point of the story, and the point of this blog.

Let me quote the story:

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?

Giles, my admonitions are directed towards businesses and other organizations that release professional writing to the public. These are people who can clearly afford to hire an editor to give their ads a quick once-over. They choose not to do this.

I only vandalize grammar errors when they are made by one of these organizations.

As for immigrants, I was asked by the reporter if there were places where I would allow grammar errors to remain. This part did not make it into the final copy of the feature. I told her that I’m not going to correct anything in an immigrant community or in an immigrant’s business. I have so much respect for immigrants, coming to a brand new country, starting their lives over, learning a new language. If an immigrant does all this and then actually starts his or her own business, I’m not going to jump on him or her for making grammatical errors!

As for the other works that I post on here, like the “F— the Systsem” tattoo, these are cases of terrible, hopeless grammar. I’m not going to be nitpicky about things that people say aloud unless they’re particularly egregious.

Look at me — one of my favorite words is “cruisazy,” which I take to mean “crazy like Tom Cruise,” and you won’t find that anywhere in the dictionary. In fact, I think it was Perez Hilton who coined that phrase.

Giles, I don’t like the fact that we continue to see such blatant errors in professional writing. Do you seriously have no problem with a sign reading “WE HAVE WOMANS SHOES”? Is that just the evolution of language? Is that okay? If it is, why even check spelling at all?

Honestly, you might have gotten more out of this if you had read through the entire article before commenting on one small aspect of what I do on this blog.

In other news, I just found out that my ribs are inflamed. I’ve been put on steroids. Perhaps the rage is kicking in.

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11 responses to “Letter to the Editor….

  1. Quote from The Grammar Vandal:

    “To me, it seems like it would be more likely that someone would spell the words incorrectly by accident than somebody than somebody would spell it wrong for aesthetic purposes.”

    “Seems like?” Was this by accident or by design?

    Herb

  2. Don’t let the unwashed masses get to you. You’re fighting the good fight.

    As for nitpickers tearing apart every one of your own grammatical transgressions, just remember that you have to know the rules to break’em. I’d say you’ve proven your credentials.

  3. Here’s an allegedly professional sign for you (seen on Route 60 in Malden):

    “Free Box Spring Sale”

    Ummm, how can it be on sale if it’s free? :-)

  4. I don’t know, Herb. It could have been either. But in either case, I think that Avante-Gard is a terrible name for a business — people aren’t sure how to pronounce it, and it probably gets spelled wrong all the time.

    Thanks, TS. :-) It’s good to hear that from you guys.

    Furpurrson, maybe you told me before, but I had no idea you lived by Route 60 in Malden! That’s right by where I live.

  5. Kate, you are correct. The letter writer is not.

    Correcting poor language is fair. It is not elitist to help improve the state of our language — no more so than trying to improve history or science knowledge in our society.

    (Imagine how much better off this guy would have been had someone helped him with basic astronomy.)

    In fact, what you are doing is the opposite of elitism.

    According to one of the word book thingies, elitism is the belief that certain persons or members of certain classes or groups deserve favored treatment by virtue of their perceived superiority, as in intellect, social status, or financial resources.

    If you were elitist, you would leave the unwashed masses to with their hideous signs and spend your days sipping iced tea at the country club, daahling!

    Instead, you are engaging companies to help improve — in a small way — education in America and the English-speaking world.

    It is now widely accepted that after a generation of de-emphasizing grammar and spelling in Quebec’s French-language schools, most of the province’s French-speaking population cannot write without making many errors.

    (The irony is not lost on the province’s 1 million English-speakers, who hear constantly that, in order to preserve the French language, English words must be banned from billboards or made half the size on commercial signs.)

    To conclude: Words matter and grammar is important. Keep up the good work.

    P.S. I re-read this a few times. If there are mistakes, be gentle.

  6. I prefer ‘tomcruisery.’

  7. “… compared to the dozens of the errors that I found on Newbury Street alone.”

    “… ignore the rest of the rest of the work in the magazine.”

  8. Being a member of an editorial board in the past, I feel your pain. People will always read your works, misconstrue what you mean and take everything out of context. It is flat-out insulting, so I say keep on keepin’ on. These people will always come out of the woodwork to hate on your pimp-status apparatus, so you just got pump your brakes and keep up that hustle. You go girl.

  9. >>As for nitpickers tearing apart every one of your own grammatical transgressions, just remember that you have to know the rules to break’em.

    This might apply here if what was actually happening was that GV was creatively breaking grammar rules for the sake of making a point, artistic license, etc. In fact, the reason people are picking on her is because she is so rigidly committed to enforcing the rules but at the same time her blog is riddled with lazy mistakes. I think people would just like her to apply the same set of rules to herself that she applies to everyone else.

  10. So, what were the other letters to the editor like? Can you post those as well?

    Also, how will you determine whether a business you correct is run by immigrants?

  11. I was all set to compose a snippy Letter to the Editor upon reading the following picture caption in this morning’s Globe (Tuesday 8/7):

    “Emily Greenstein from the Boston spa exhale at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.”

    My initial reaction was “they can’t even get basic subject-verb agreement right anymore!” Then I read the accompanying article and discovered that “exhale,” all lowercase, was the name of a local spa. Yes, I know, business names get a little leeway, but methinks exhale (it pains me just to write that) is doing itself no favors with its confusing orthography!

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