Wielding an ‘apostrophiser’ – a broom handle laden with two sponges and a number of stickers – the man has corrected tens of missing and misplaced apostrophes on shop banners across Bristol over the past 13 years.
The pedant, who is yet to reveal his identity, claims his efforts are needed to bring an end to the improper use of English. But critics suggest he should start with his own name – as apostrophes are strictly a matter of punctuation rather than grammar.
People might say what I am doing is wrong, but it is more of a crime to have the apostrophes wrong in the first placethe self-styled grammar vigilante
“I’m a grammar vigilante,” he told the BBC. “I do think it’s a cause worth pursuing. I have felt extremely nervous. The heart has been thumping.”
He claims to visit different high streets across the city, using a trestle for the harder-to-reach banners in order to make good on his name.
One of his most recent corrections was to Cambridge Motor’s garage, where an errant apostrophe in ‘Motor’s’ had annoyed him for years. It isn’t the first time the vehicle repairs service has suffered at his hands.
Paul, who manages Cambridge Motor’s, said he caught the man in the act more than two years ago, when he was seen attempting to scrub out an apostrophe on a sign that read “Keys and letter’s through here”.
“We put up a sign and I caught him at the front attempting to scrub off permanent marker,” he told The Telegraph.
“I said to him, ‘What are you doing?’ and he said, ‘You’ve got a rogue apostrophe there’. He was a middle-aged bloke, he obviously lives locally and it’s just his pastime.”
While Paul is more than happy for the grammarian to point out mistakes, many are less receptive.
Jason Singh, 42, who owns the tailors Tux & Tails, claims that he potentially faces paying thousands of pounds for his sign to be corrected.
The issue, the omission of an apostrophe in “Gentlemens”, has been corrected with what appears to be two blobs of paint, or stickers, that do not sit well with the newly-fitted vinyl.
“I did take it lightly at first, but now I’m a little angry to be honest,” he said. “We think it’s paint, and this is vinyl, so if we have to replace it you’re looking at a few thousand pounds. I understand, but at the end of the day I’d have preferred him to come in and tell me.
"I think it could be considered rather rude. I think there might even be grounds for a police complaint, and if his name is revealed, I’ll be sending him an invoice for the damages.”
However, the vigilante has defended the legality of his work, telling reporters that some of the mistakes he redresses are “just wrong” and that “it’s more of a crime to have apostrophes wrong in the first place”.
Melania Branton, a poet from North Somerset, said that whoever the ‘grammar vigilante’ turns out to be “must be wincing at the misnomer, as punctuation isn’t grammar”.
Meanwhile, Peter Barker, the chairman of the Queen’s English Society, added: “I don’t disapprove of his motives; in fact, I can see why he would be frustrated. Whether or not I would be going about his business late at night is another matter, however.”
A spokesman for Avon and Somerset Police said the force was unaware of any complaints being lodged, but any permanent damage caused could provide grounds for police intervention.
A Princeton PhD, was a U.S. diplomat for over 20 years, mostly in Central/Eastern Europe, and was promoted to the Senior Foreign Service in 1997. He has taught courses for many years at Georgetown University pertaining to propaganda and public diplomacy. He currently shares ideas on the theme "E Pluribus Unum? What Keeps the United States United" to Eurasian/European delegates participating in the "Open World" program.
Brown’s articles have appeared in numerous publications. A recent piece is “Janus-Faced Public Diplomacy: Creel and Lippmann During the Great War” (published in Nontraditional U.S. Public Diplomacy: Past, Present, and Future).
He is the author (with S. Grant) of The Russian Empire and the USSR: A Guide to Manuscripts and Archival Materials in the United States. He also served as an editor/translator of a joint U.S.-Soviet publication, The Establishment of Russian-American Relations, 1765-1815.