‘Grammar vigilante’ fixes punctuation goofs

Apostrophe errors drive us all nuts. The BBC unmasks a hero who’s doing something about it.

If the reports crossing your desk, with their grammatical errors and misplaced apostrophes, have ever driven you batty, rest assured you have a kindred soul.

A self-styled “grammar vigilante” is prowling the streets of Bristol, England, by night, correcting apostrophe errors on street and business signs.

The BBC teased an interview with the secretive hero with the headline, “Meet the ‘Grammar Vigilante’ of Bristol.” An avalanche of coverage ensued.

The Beeb reported:

For years, it has been rumoured that somebody has been going out late at night, correcting bad punctuation on Bristol shop fronts.

The self-proclaimed “grammar vigilante” goes out undercover in the dead of night correcting street signs and shop fronts where the apostrophes are in the wrong place.

The rise of this rhetorical Robin Hood seemed to rank as high in news value as a royal wedding after the BBC accompanied him on one of his missions.

The Independent reported, “‘Grammar vigilante’ changes incorrect business signs across Bristol under cover of darkness.” The Guardian trumpeted, “‘Banksy of punctuation’ puts full stop to bad grammar in Bristol,” referring to the street artist who haunts the same British city.

“The man said he began by scratching out an extraneous apostrophe on a sign,” the Guardian stated, “but had since become more sophisticated and has built an ‘apostrophiser’—a long-handled piece of kit that allows him to reach up to shop signs to add in, or cover up, offending punctuation marks. ‘This is a device that enables you to plant an apostrophe quite high up and get over any obstacles,’ he said.”

(“Kit.” Ah, we love the British.)

Free download: 10 punctuation essentials

The Independent quoted the secretive punctuation freak about what sets him off.

“Then there was this really gross sign in Gloucester Road: ‘Amy’s Nail’s,'” he stated. “It was just so loud and in-your-face I just couldn’t abide it, so I had to go and apply my wares to this apostrophe. It grates—I think, how can they?”

Superhero status?

In a headline that might want to borrow a spare comma from the punctuation perfectionist, Mashable stated, “‘Grammar vigilante’ sneaks around at night fixing bad apostrophes because not all heroes wear capes.”

For those wondering, “Who was that masked man?” he calls himself a “highly qualified professional,” adding that “only a handful of his friends and family know what he gets up to after dark,” Business Insider reported.

Twitter, naturally, ate it up, with some seeing Batman parallels.

One book editor rejoiced in the Bristol stalker’s mischief.

Others cried out for a visit from the vigilante to their hometowns.

Some pedants dispute that the “grammar vigilante” has anything to do with grammar. (At least one editor at Ragan would concur with that quibble.)

With a story like this, you’d expect newspaper editors to go nuts. After all, they spend their days—and late nights—spotting the sorts of errors the vigilante corrects.

The bigger question for our audience is this: Could there be a PR lesson in all the media attention this stunt has received? Perhaps some publicity-hungry chief executive out there might be willing to don tights and a cape and correct signage around the corporate headquarters.

For the answer, tune in next week, same Bat time, same Bat station.



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