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Grammar Vigilantes Busted in Grand Canyon National Park, Barred from Park System


The scene of the grammar crime: The Watchtower at Desert View in Grand Canyon National Park. NPS photo by Michael Quinn.

Come on, admit it. You cringe when you see someone use "it's" instead of "its," and it really affects you when effects is used as a verb.

If so, then you understand how Jeff Michael Deck, of Somerville, Massachusetts, and Benjamin Douglas Herson, of Virginia Beach, Virginia, must have felt back on March 28 when they entered the Watchtower at Desert View in Grand Canyon National Park and saw the grammar problems with an (a?) historic sign that tells visitors what to look for in the structure.

Being apostles of the "Typo Eradication Advancement League," Messieurs Deck and Herson, both 28, resorted to black marker and Wite*Out to fix the offending apostrophe and once-absent comma in the first paragraph of the sign, which dated to the 1930s or early 1940s. Unfortunately, it turns out Mr. Deck made the cardinal mistake of chronicling their work on a web site, which came to the attention of National Park Service investigators.

"We do not blame, nor chastise, the authors of these typos. It is natural for mistakes to occur; everybody will slip up now and again. But slowly the once-unassailable foundations of spelling are crumbling, and the time has come for the crisis to be addressed," explains one section of the web site.

Later, in recounting the editing that occurred at the Grand Canyon, Mr. Deck wrote, "A faux Native American watchtower is part of the tourist structure at the Desert View lookout. Benjamin and I climbed it and discovered a hand-rendered sign inside that, I regret to report, had a few errors. I know today was supposed to be my day off from typo-hunting, but if I may be permitted to quote that most revered of android law enforcers, Inspector Gadget: "Always on duty!"

While their grammar lesson might have been delivered, the two were tracked down by NPS investigators, hauled before a federal judge back on August 11, and pleaded guilty to doing the deed. They were ordered to make restitution of $3,035 -- the cost estimated to re-insert the grammar errors -- and banned from entering any national park for one year.

(Editor's note: To learn more of their handiwork and thought process, read the attached criminal complaint.)


In reply to Mr. Quadivich about where the money from fines goes. This is a goo d question and one that many people might ask regarding the fines paid for citations rangers hand out for speeding, resource damage, etc. The fact is, none of the money goes to the parks or to the NPS. All fines go to the Crime Victims Fund maintained by the Justice Department. The money is the made available vis grants to many organizations nationwide that help crime victims. So, unlike many local and state police departments, there is no financial incentive for the NPS to issue tickets.

I believe the simplistic answer to the protection of historic signage is simply, and feel free to correct (or feel indignant by the usage of) the colloquial grammar:

The system ain't got no money for such altruistic pursuits.

Omar asks:

"... why does the NPS not Protect [historic signs] from Vandalism, ie. plexiglass enclosures."

I agree, Omar, historic artifacts deserve some thought to protection & preservation. There are different ways to protect, some of which are already implemented. The factors that weight on the plexiglass approach (which I have seen used) might run like this:

  • The sign has made it a lifetime without anybody feeling compelled to fabricate a corny excuse to vandalize it.
  • Artifacts need a range of forms of protection: e.g., plexiglass will be excessive for some roles, and insufficient for others.
  • There are huge numbers of artifacts, and the burden to provide high levels of assurance that a fool could never damage any of them could be too costly.
  • We really do depend as a society - beyond the question of a nice, local, old sign - on the good will and common sense of everyone. That approach lets us have the freedom & personal responsibility we like to enjoy as mostly reasonably human beings ... and generally this policy is efficient & effective.

We don't hear as much about shoplifting in stores anymore, and I think that is thanks to video cameras studding the ceilings, etc. As people become conditioned to the fact that in increasing numbers of public contexts the setting is be video-recorded & monitored, substantial security improvements can be had simply by mounting a fixture that is suggestive of a camera.

It's a tough call in some of the diverse settings where vandalism might occur, and perfection will surely elude us, but it is right & worthwhile that we think about protection and continue to seek improvements.

Dad said (when asked if the Master lock on the barn could withstand a bullet):

"We put locks on doors to keep good people honest, not to stop the bad ones."

If these signs and other signs around the National Parks are felt to be "Historic" (designated), then why does the NPS not Protect them from Vandalism, ie. plexiglass enclosures.
Are the fines that are collected for vandalism going to be used to protect similar historic signs in the future?

My great-grandparents homesteaded in New Mexico, and Grandpa was raised in the classic "Three Sisters" agricultural + ranching milieu. Through him, all his kids have continued to refer to sorghum as sogrum, and are always non-plussed when somebody (who doesn't know not to..) asks, "You mean sorghum?"

Furthermore, both Granddad's & Dad's given name is "Teen", a very rare moniker which we can't account for ... and very hard to research on the Internet.

... So me fuss about weird usage? Not on your sogrum pancakes!

When I lived in deepest rural South Carolina they would ask a newcomer if they "was kilt?" Which was a polite way of asking if you were married.

This reminds me of 1984 where they constantly had to rewrite history so everything is consistent. One of my favorite errors, and please no one correct it, occurs on a tombstone in a ghost town outside Zion: Here lies so-and-so, "Kilt by Indians".

So, any sinage left for posterity by the earliest explorers of the world, regardless of national origin, are now subject to grammatical "fixing" the self-annointed grammar police? I take it "Olde English" simply isn't an acceptable method of conveying one's ideas any longer. You go fellas......start correcting all those words ending with an extra "e" or that everso troubling vowel blend of "ou" (e.g. colour, favour) when a single "o" is sufficient. My, we've become SO self-righteous....being the "world's police" isn't good enough, we've determined we also have the right to correct language mishaps in a language that most citizens of this country can't speak or write properly anyway? Get a life, boys.

Should've fined them another 5K for being pompous.

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