I’m a proofreader in my professional life, so I’m hyper-attuned to noticing pesky spelling and grammatical errors—I have to be or I’d be pretty lousy at my job. Unfortunately, that part of my brain just can’t be shut off when I’m outside the office. I notice bad spelling and poor grammar mistakes everywhere—restaurant menus, movie posters, billboards, etc. Unfortunately, there’s not a red pen in the world large enough to make all of these changes as I see them.
But now, in the most “not all heroes wear capes” situation I’ve ever seen, a self-described “grammar vigilante” has taken the streets of Bristol, England to do just that. Wielding his weapon of choice, what he calls an ‘apostrophiser’—a long broom handle laden with two sponges and a number of stickers—he has gone undercover in the dead of night and corrected tens of missing and misplaced apostrophes on shop banners and street signs across the city for well over a decade. The formalist has yet to reveal his identity but claims that his efforts are needed to bring an end to the improper use of English.
What started as a superfluous apostrophe scratched off a street sign here and a possessive rendered plural with the stroke of some tape there has turned into an international sensation, with the BBC calling him the “Banksy of punctuation.” While the incognito copy-editor of the streets keeps a tight lip on his civilian identity, we do know a bit about his backstory. Apparently, he’s a mild-mannered engineer by day who transforms at night, riding around the streets and putting apostrophes in their proper places.
One of his most recent corrections was to Cambridge Motor’s garage, where an errant apostrophe in ‘Motor’s’ had annoyed him for years. It isn’t the first time the vehicle repairs service has suffered at his hands. Paul, who manages Cambridge Motor’s, said he caught the man in the act more than two years ago, when he was seen attempting to scrub out an apostrophe on a sign that read “Keys and letter’s through here.”
“We put up a sign and I caught him at the front attempting to scrub off permanent marker,” he told The Telegraph. “I said to him, ‘What are you doing?’ and he said, ‘You’ve got a rogue apostrophe there’. He was a middle-aged bloke, he obviously lives locally and it’s just his pastime.”
While Paul is more than happy for the grammarian to point out mistakes, many are less receptive. Jason Singh, 42, who owns the tailors Tux & Tails, claims that he potentially faces paying thousands of pounds for his sign to be corrected. “I did take it lightly at first, but now I’m a little angry to be honest,” he said. “We think it’s paint, and this is vinyl, so if we have to replace it you’re looking at a few thousand pounds. I understand, but at the end of the day I’d have preferred him to come in and tell me.”
However, the vigilante has defended the legality of his work, telling reporters that some of the mistakes he fixes are “just wrong” and that “it’s more of a crime to have apostrophes wrong in the first place.”
“I’m a grammar vigilante. I do take it to heart—I think it’s a cause worth pursuing,” he told the BBC, in a documentary called The Apostrophiser that aired on on BBC Radio Four. “People might say what I am doing is wrong, but it is more of a crime to have the apostrophes wrong in the first place.” Since the documentary was announced, people around the world have reached out with requests for the masked man to come fix local mistakes that have been plaguing them.
The grammar vigilante isn’t the hero we deserve, but he’s the one we need.
YouTube Channel: GLOBAL NEWS
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