America, Corrected: Typo Vigilantes Check Spelling Coast to Coast
For centuries, travelers have crossed America to explore it, conquer it, settle it, exploit it and study it. Now, a small but righteous crew are traversing America in order to edit it. Jeff Deck, and his friends at the Typo Eradication Advancement League (Teal), are spending three months driving from San Francisco, California, to Somerville, Massachusetts, on a mission to correct every misspelled, poorly punctuated, sloppily phrased item of signage they encounter en route. Equipped with marker pens, stickers and white-out, they are seeking to scourge America's landscape of floating apostrophes, logic--defying syntax and other manifestations of laziness and/or illiteracy.
The amusing -- indeed, vexingly addictive -- blog on which they are chronicling their progress is illustrated with before and after pictures of their handiwork. Though we must be braced for the likelihood that their odyssey will eventually be turned into a crushingly mediocre film, very probably starring Adam Sandler, the members of Teal are, for the moment, genuinely heroic figures.
Teal are doing what many of us have only dared dream of doing -- "us" being that legion, usually silent but for the grinding of teeth, of linguistic pedants. I am such a creature, and have been following Teal's crusade mostly out of wholehearted admiration, but partly out of relief at discovering that I may not, after all, be quite as chronic a case as I suspected. I have, at various points in my life, done all of the following: routinely gone four blocks out of my way for my shopping rather than patronize the greengrocer across the street who cheerfully, enragingly, advertised "tomatoe's"; startled a crowded ticket concourse at Archway tube with a pained, all but reflexive yelp of "For fuck's SAKE!" upon spotting a stall offering "toiletrie's"; sent querulous emails to news outlets correcting their spelling of obscure Balkan hamlets and personages; voted for a candidate whose views I didn't much care for just because the flyer I'd received from his opponent had misspelled something; revised radically downwards my opinion of a potential romantic prospect upon discerning that she didn't know, or didn't care about, the difference between "your" and "you're". I'm not proud of most of those things, especially the last (although, in my defense, I'm sure I've been more susceptible to an elegantly wrought email than most). But I am right in believing that these things matter, and Teal may well be right in believing that these things warrant extreme measures.
The reason that abuse of the language infuriates like few other everyday transgressions is the complete absence of any excuse for it. A lesson in the correct use of written English is only as far away as the nearest book or newspaper -- if you can read at all, you can see how it is supposed to be done. A person who perpetrates vandalism upon the language, whether they're the signwriters targeted by Teal or the correspondents who pollute Comment is free threads with the barbarous neologisms of text-speak, is not merely inept but actively contemptuous. A language is the crucial asset of any society -- it's what binds us, animates us, permits us to accomplish things. It is part of our common space, and perhaps it should be protected as such. In theory at least, fly -- tippers and litterers, who also wantonly sully what belongs to us all, are subject to prosecution. While my personal preference for retribution against typographical psychopaths would involve angry mobs with torches, I am a reasonable man, and would settle for a regime of fines, the proceeds to be spent on a campaign to raise standards of literacy.
It would be agreeable to think that Teal may one day be remembered as an equivalent of the volunteer constables and bounty hunters of 18th century London, eventually corralled by Sir Robert Peel into the Metropolitan police force. And perhaps, then, thus empowered by force of law, they could drive back across America the other way, instructing their compatriots in the correct spelling of "neighbour".