Imagine walking down the street and having a stranger pull you aside to force you to change your clothes for an outfit they think looks better.
Imagine telling someone at a party about a health problem and having them force a pill down your throat because “as a fellow sufferer” they “know” this cure will work.
Whether the interloper was a professional or not, you wouldn’t put up with it, would you? After all, you hadn’t asked for their help. In most cases, you wouldn’t want it or need it.
Now imagine an anonymous someone adding apostrophes to your business’s signs. Someone who is so compulsive, they don’t care that they destroy your property. Someone who doesn’t have the courage to speak to you personally or publicly claim responsibility. Someone who, maybe, doesn’t have any real knowledge about punctuation or grammar or style or anything related to language and writing.
Would you feel kindly toward that person? Would you feel grateful?
Or would you instead feel angry that they destroyed your sign? Humiliated that they called out your error publicly? Discouraged because they’d made you feel stupid?
Every so often, someone is so passionate about what they think is correct punctuation or grammar—whether or not they’re actually right—that they leave their manners at home and publicly humiliate strangers.
It is not a kindness—it’s abhorrent behavior. And when we’re talking about marking up someone else’s property, it’s also vandalism. Which, last time I checked, was illegal.
It also gives the world a misguided idea about what professional editors, who are also passionate about language, do. We don’t go around slapping our authors’ wrists in public and telling them how wrong and stupid they are. We fix things to help our authors share their message and readers to receive that message. The text is just the vehicle for the author’s ideas. We’re the mechanics that keep the vehicle humming along so passengers can reach their destinations.
Listen, we’re all human. We all make mistakes. I often tell readers who find mistakes on Copyediting that even editors need editors. If you’re tempted to cheer on vigilantism like this or, worse, publicly humiliate someone because they were—gasp!—human, don’t. Think about how you would feel if someone publicly displayed all your editing mistakes (we all make them).
It’s fine to privately and politely tell someone they have an error they may wish to fix, but leave it at that. If they fix it, great. If not, let it go. It’s not yours to control.
Be passionate about grammar and punctuation and good writing. Be a diligent editor for your authors.
Don’t be a grammar vigilante.