Sunday, May 30, 2010

Grammar Vigilantes:

Eradicating incorrect punctuation, spelling mistakes and flawed grammar one sign at a time.

When I spot a grammar or spelling error in my own work, I fix it. When I spot a grammar or spelling error in other people’s work, I use it as a "what not to do" learning experience.

Some people, however, feel the need to stamp out all grammar, spelling and punctuation errors made by others. And according to this article, no signs are safe from self-proclaimed "grammar vigilantes", not even historic signs inside national landmarks.

In 2008, two Dartmouth College grads were arrested and charged when they took it upon themselves to fix punctuation errors on a historic hand-painted sign in Grand Canyon National Park.

The vigilante's target: a 70-year-old hand-painted sign in a Grand Canyon watchtower.
(image from

For concealing and adding apostrophes and adding a comma, the two men were sentenced to a year’s probation, ordered to pay $3,000 in restitution and were banned from national parks within the U.S.

The two were also prohibited from making any more corrections to public signs. So--for now-- the plaque in Red River College's Buhler Learning Commons is safe.

(image from CreComm instructor, Kenton Larsen's blog)

Thursday, May 13, 2010

A Lesson in Chinglish

In our intersession course, Editing for Print and Online Media, we have been given the task to “spot the screw up.” By the end of the course I have to discover and hand in five errors, and I can look for these errors just about anywhere: news articles, advertisements, newsletters, signs and so on.

I am finding this assignment to be more difficult than I had anticipated. I thought I'd breeze through articles and easily catch spelling mistakes, but it hasn’t been that easy for me.

I’ve stopped skimming through the Free Press and have started looking for errors by reading articles thoroughly. I've asked my mom to save all the flyers from the paper, expecting them to have an abundance of spelling mistakes. I even read the entire playbill for MTC's production of Steel Magnolias, looking for errors while waiting at the dentist office. I have spotted nothing.

It was while I was listening to CBC’s Q with Jian Ghomeshi today that I learned this assignment may be a whole lot easier if I were to take a quick trip to Shanghai for the World Expo.

The celebration and gathering of world cultures is expected to draw in 70 million foreign visitors over its 6-month run, and this has created quite the interesting linguistic problem. Visitors are flooded with signs that either make no sense at all or are so poorly translated they make you laugh. This faulty translation of Chinese to English on signage has become its own language called Chinglish.

There are menu items like "fried enema" and "jew's ear juice." And larger clothing items sometimes come in sizes like "fatso" or "lard bucket."

Here are some other funny examples of Chinglish:





While the Shanghai Commission for the Management of Language Use is working hard to eliminate these mistakes by replacing tens of thousands of street signs, one German journalist is arguing that the Chinglish language deserves preservation.

Oliver Lutz Radtke has written two books about Chinglish and argues that standardizing the faulty translations will not only take away the "little giggle you get while strolling through the park" but will also close a window into the Chinese mind.

I wonder if I can use the same excuse for spelling errors in my own writing..."but that error offers a glimpse into my mind"... for some reason I don't think Duncan will go for it.