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story.lead_photo.caption (Democrat-Gazette photo illustration/CELIA STOREY)

When I see a headline that includes the words "radical grammar pedants," I know it's my kind of article. This was a few years back, but it still makes me happy.

Of course, one could argue the phrase is redundant. But that's a subject for another day.

The Guardian newspaper of England told the story of peeved people in Quito, Ecuador, who took action against street graffiti that contained poor punctuation, bad spelling and other offenses.

The instigator, a lawyer, would often walk by poorly crafted phrases. They annoyed him.

"I couldn't believe that in just two sentences there were more than 10 grammatical errors," he said. He copied the phrases and met with a friend to discuss how to correct the atrocities.

They chose code names for themselves, because, they said, they weren't sure whether they were breaking the law. Isn't that a funny thing for a lawyer to admit?

One man uses the name "Diaresis," a symbol with two dots. It's placed over the second of two vowels to indicate the vowel should be pronounced separately, as in the word "naive."

The other man uses "Tilde," the squiggly line placed above the letter "n" in Spanish to indicate the "n" should be pronounced "nya."

The crusaders used red correction marks, as any devoted pedant would. They made their corrections in darkness.

But they denied that they were trying to teach anyone anything. They said they just wanted to amuse people.

That doesn't mean they were not deadly serious about grammar. "Many times, someone does not realize how a comma or an oversight can completely change the meaning of a sentence," Diaresis told a reporter. "It can change your life."

OK, maybe that last sentence exaggerates a bit.

Some of the graffiti corrected was part of a movement called Poetic Action (Accion Poetica). In 1996, Mexican poet Armando Alanis Pulido decided that city life lacked expressions of love and romance. He began writing brief, poetic phrases to display on walls and other structures all over Monterrey, Mexico. He would add the byline Accion Poetica. The notion spread to other Spanish-speaking nations.

This might be how the grammar guys chose to sign their work with a stencil saying "Orthographic Action Quito" (Accion Ortografica Quito). Orthography is the correct spelling of words, and I will be certain to add that pastime to my resume the next time I update it.

After a little while, the two took on a third crusader named "Comma" (Coma in Spanish). He pursues online errors, so he must be one busy man. Comma caused a little anxiety for the group by correcting a tweet of Ecuador's then-President Rafael Correa. They made amends by correcting the tweet of one of Correa's political opponents.

They even considered opening a phone line so other people can report grammar errors they see.

Good for you, all you who teach correct grammar to graffiti artists when they're young!

ACCENTS IN COMMERCIALS

I received only a few emails about foreign accents in commercials. I had mentioned in a recent column that I was mystified by how certain accents help to sell products.

But one reader reminded me about the German boy who pushed the breakfast pastry Toaster Strudels a couple of years back. I have never eaten a Toaster Strudel, so I have no opinion about the product. I guess it makes sense to have a German kid selling strudel-like food, because strudel is German or Austrian.

In earlier commercials, the boy says something I couldn't understand, and I spent way too much time trying to decipher his words. In later commercials, he speaks a little more clearly, describing the strudels as gooey and flaky.

Apparently a lot of people had strong feelings about this kid. One blog entry had this as a headline: "Toaster Strudel Boy: Sweet Kid or Homicidal Maniac?"

I clearly don't understand the advertising world.

Sources: The Guardian, Smithsonian.com, Corresponsal de Paz, American Heritage Dictionary, Reel Life With Jane, Merriam-Webster.

bkwordmonger@gmail.com

Style on 03/04/2019

Print Headline: Grammar fight spills into street

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Comments

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  • justanArkansan
    March 4, 2019 at 9:47 a.m.

    Would someone please ask Arkansas Blue Cross Blue Shield to correct their “Live Fearless” slogan to “Live Fearlessly”? The incorrect use of “fearless” makes me cringe as much as the sound of fingernails on a chalkboard.

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