The Grammar Vigilante of Whanganui

No ungrammatical sign is safe from Margi’s correction pen.

By Ciara Pratt
Chalkboards are easy pickings for Margi.
"My mother used to say, 'People can't cope with their apostrophes!', and that was back in the 1960s!
Mum and Dad were sticklers for grammar, pronunciation and spelling. If you were going to write, you should write well, they would say.
As a result, I'd always notice mistakes wherever I went. Sometimes if I was in a waiting room and reading a magazine article, I might get my red pen out and do some proofreading. People would comment that they'd never seen anybody do that and I'd just reply, 'Well, here I am!'
It really was the inspiration from someone known as the Bristol Apostrophiser that got me going, though. He is an anonymous 'grammar vigilante' in Bristol in the UK, who goes around at night correcting signs with his 'apostrophiser' [a broom handle with sponges and stickers].
I first saw him on the news and thought, 'I could do it here.' But I have a different approach. I'm not going to creep round at night and I certainly don't have the wherewithal to build an apostrophiser. Plus, I don't have a ladder.
So I thought I'd focus on blackboard signs and use chalk. And then I realised I'd need a permanent marker for hand-painted signs.
I began my vigilantism on April 8 at the Whanganui River Traders Market.
I came across a stall which didn't have any customers and I could see the sign needed a bit of work. So I approached the stallholder, introduced myself as the grammar vigilante of Whanganui and explained what I wanted to do.
Most people are very receptive and we talk about the sign. Some can be quite baffled. Some have yelled, 'Good on you!' as they walk past, while others have looked strangely at me as if they're thinking, 'Why on earth are you doing that?'
The thing is, mistakes really stick out. And if it's wrong, I can help fix it. It used to make me mad when I saw a glaring mistake. But now it amuses me rather than annoys me.
I look at them and think, 'That signwriter just needs a bit of help.' It's really about doing it with love, rather than crossing it out angrily and starting again.
The sign might just need a quiet apostrophe or a hyphen, not an angry red one. It's all out in the open, people see me with my bag now and they go, 'Oh there she goes again' and we have a bit of a laugh.
And I've even touched up some of the official Whanganui signs that haven't been tended to yet to include the 'h'.
The Bristol Apostrophiser actually wrote to me after hearing that he had inspired me. 'Bad grammar and punctuation is most annoying,' he said. 'If you can correct it in your own way without causing any offence, that's great.'
I've found other like-minded people since I opened a Facebook page called Grammar Vigilantes of Aotearoa. It's now got about 130 members.
It's fun! We have people posting signs from all over, including a pearler from one woman who saw a sign at a campground that said, 'please disperse sanitary items in the bins provided'. You'd hope people didn't take the sign literally!
You see a lot of mistakes on restaurant menus as well, so sometimes I just write all over them. Ice cream often has a hyphen in it or gluten-free doesn't have the hyphen.
I just want it to be right and I want people to know how to use apostrophes and hyphens correctly.
No ungrammatical sign is safe from Margi's correction pen.
People either don't care or they don't notice and haven't proofread their signs.
I don't have a full-time job. I proofread, mostly on PhD theses or for students who don't have English as their first language. That's my main work.
I also teach people how to write four-letter-word stories at the local community education service. I did find when I was a teacher that I quite enjoyed marking my pupils' work. I guess I would say I've been doing this for about 40 years. It's pretty much every day I do something to do with grammar.
One thing I would say is a sense of humour is essential in this game!"
  • undefined: Ciara Pratt

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