Correcting other people's English illegal

Dennis Baron debaron at
Mon Sep 22 05:23:37 UTC 2008

There's a new post on the Web of Language: Correcting other people's  
English illegal -- Comma Bombers guilty on federal conspiracy charges

The Comma Bombers, better known as Jeff Michael Deck and Benjamin  
Douglas Herson, both 28, both English majors, both graduates of that  
hotbed of compassionate conservatism, Dartmouth College, were  
sentenced to a $3,000 fine and a year's probation by a federal judge  
last month for correcting an apostrophe on a historic handpainted sign  
at the Watch Tower, near Arizona's Grand Canyon.

The sign had been painted by the architect Mary Colter to introduce  
visitors to the Anasazi-style Watch Tower that she designed on the  
Canyon’s south rim in 1933.  Interestingly, Colter had been a stickler  
for detail: she handpicked every stone and placed it in the structure  
to achieve the maximum impact.

But the vandals didn’t approve of Colter's attention to punctuation,  
so they fixed a misplaced apostrophe and added a missing comma with  
WiteOut and markers. . . .

Because the sign has historic value and is on a federally-protected  
site, these fighters in what some newspapers are calling the "war on  
error" were found guilty in U.S. District Court in Flagstaff of  
conspiracy to vandalize government property. . . .

these budding Alex P. Keatons began their voyage of discovery three  
miles north of the start of Rt. 66, in Chicago's hipster-ridden Wicker  
Park, where they unsuccessfully attempted to correct the sign outside  
Milwuakee (sic) Furniture. . . .

there are plenty of other language vigilantes eager to join the futile  
effort to put commas in their place. . . .

Correcting other people's language errors has long been a hobby of  
those English majors who feel the need to compete with  
environmentalists, premeds and social work students in the "make the  
world a better place" sweepstakes.

Unfortunately, in terms of language, most people want to be correct,  
but they don't want to be corrected. In other words, you can correct  
all you want, so long as you don’t expect anyone to listen to you. . . .

read the rest of this post on the Web of Language
Dennis Baron
Professor of English and Linguistics
Department of English
University of Illinois
608 S. Wright St.
Urbana, IL 61801

office: 217-244-0568
fax: 217-333-4321

read the Web of Language:

-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
URL: <>

More information about the Lgpolicy-list mailing list