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Confessions of a Guerrilla Grammarian
I was on a mission. It was dicey. It was bold. It had cloak-and-dagger undertones, although the weather was too balmy for a cloak, and rather than a sharp
weapon I was wielding a Sharpie Permanent Marker.
Because of the e-newsletter’s large readership, please submit your English usage questions through GrammarBook.com’s “Grammar Blog.”
Let me set the scene. I live in a charming little tourist trap in Northern California. A couple of years ago the town built a state-of-the-art downtown
public restroom. This smallish structure is sleek and sturdy: red brick with gray granite base molding and thick translucent glass-brick detailing.
It opened to great fanfare, but right from the start, something was amiss. And I came to realize that if I didn’t fix it, who would?
I will leave it to my fellow nitpickers to determine whether what I did was the act of a righteous crusader or a nuisance with too much time on his hands.
The two entrances to the facility each feature a white-tile sign. One says “mens restroom” and the other says “womens restroom.”
For months I walked by those illiterate signs, trying not to look. And as I’d pass, it seemed the signs would taunt me: “Hey, grammar
boy,” they’d sneer. “Apostrophes? We don’t need no stinkin’ apostrophes!”
Finally I snapped. One sparkling summer evening I grabbed my Sharpie and fairly galloped downtown. I made my way through a swarm of out-of-towners and
painstakingly affixed the requisite punctuation mark to each sign.
I felt I was striking a blow for all long-suffering sticklers who have to stand by helplessly as innocent apostrophes are routinely abused and neglected.
Believe me, the sight of men’s and women’s has never been so sweet.
My deed went unnoticed by the early-evening crowd, most of them woozy from exorbitant gourmet burgers and extortionate Hawaiian ice cream. But had I been
arrested for defacing public property, I’d have said: “Officer, this is not vandalism. The vandals are the ones who put up those brain-dead
signs. What sort of terrible example is this town setting for young people, or visitors from other countries who are trying to learn English?”
I hope you don’t see me as one of those so-called taggers—no-talent grandstanders who go around sabotaging public property with their garish,
illegible, or vulgar graffiti. On the contrary, what I did was more like removing a road hazard. That is just good citizenship.
Try telling it to the town’s maintenance department. Every time I walk by the building now, I notice my apostrophes getting fainter—someone is
rubbing them out. In what bizarre universe does that constitute civic improvement?
I have a feeling that those signs haven’t seen the last of me and my Sharpie.
The following were taken from actual public signs. Can you fix what ails them? The answers are at the end of the newsletter.
1. “No dog’s allowed except guide dog’s”
2. “Employee’s must wash there hands before returning to work”
3. “Amazing value everyday”
4. “Violators will be towed and find $50”
5. “Use as part of a prudent diet together with regular excercise”
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Pop Quiz Answers
1. “No dogs allowed except guide dogs”
2. “Employees must wash their hands before returning to work”
3. “Amazing value every day”
4. “Violators will be towed and fined $50”
5. “Use as part of a prudent diet together with regular exercise”
Learn all about who and whom, affect and effect, subjects and verbs, adjectives and adverbs, commas, semicolons, quotation marks, and much more by just sitting back and enjoying these easy-to-follow lessons. Tell your colleagues (and boss), children, teachers, and friends. Click here to watch.