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Am I guilty of graffiti?Created by Jane in Jane Lawson's Blog
Having spent forty odd (some of them very odd) years attempting to teach good English to generations of pupils and students, I’m finding that old habits die hard.
I always have a bag well stocked with pens, felt tips, pencils, paper clips and so on because – well, you never know when you might need them. And the temptation to apply my red pen to good effect sometimes becomes irresistible. Even outside my own four walls and even in very public spaces.
The most common and irritating piece of punctuation is the ‘greengrocers’ apostrophe. Note, I have used the apostrophe correctly here as there are many, many green grocers who commit this dreadful crime. Those are the signs that declare ‘Apple’s £1 a bowl’ or ‘Best leek’s only £2.00 for two kilo’s. It’s a plural for goodness sake. Unfortunately, the eagle eyes of the stall holders prevent me from wielding my red pen.
But I succeeded last summer in correcting a notice which proudly announced ‘Fish Chips and pees’. The image that created in my head was too awful to leave uncorrected and after a furtive look over my shoulder, out came the thick felt tip, and all was well.
However, this summer, try as I might I couldn’t correct a temporary notice in my local hospital which directed patients (of whom I was one) to the ‘Plastor Room’. With one arm in a pot and no pen to hand it just made my anguish worse.
It still amazes me that in this age of automatic spelling correction so many misspelt words are to be found in the printed press, sheer carelessness or just a don’t care attitude? I’m not sure. And of course I realise that the spell checker cannot identify the wrong homonym. Recently I’ve seen the following:
I didn’t dare brooch the subject
We had a huge bowl of chilly ( hope it kept them that way)
And unbelievably, from a student ‘Lessen plans’. He was the recipient of a very snarky comment!
My actions with my red pen resulted in an interesting conversation last New Year though. As I emerged from the tube a festive minded employee had written a sign saying ‘Bon anne’. Out came my pen and I discreetly (not discretely) changed it to Bonne année. Out popped the author and asked me what I was doing. I explained that I thought his notice was a lovely idea, but for the benefit of any French visitors we needed to keep up the English side and spell it correctly. He was very interested and we had a productive conversation which ended with my (not me) directing him to the Local Authority French Language course, which he was keen to attend. So, a result there at least.
I have resolved these days to be more careful, though. People can get very touchy about having their spelling and grammar corrected, even if it’s done with the best of intentions. Mind you, as someone who has always struggled with numbers I don’t mind a bit if someone explains where I have gone wrong and helpfully puts it right.