Tuesday, August 14, 2007

The Writing Life: Giving Aid to the Grammatically Challenged

By JJ Murphy

What doesn’t belong on this sign?
If you said the apostrophe, you’re right.

I’m not being critical or judgmental. People who have trouble with grammar and spelling are among my clients. It’s my job to find and correct these mistakes before they go public.

I wish these sign makers were my clients.

There is one other thing about this sign that concerns me. It’s the choice of words.

In all fairness, the sign had to be made and posted quickly, after a woman reported that she was walking her dog in a local state park and was confronted by a coyote.

For any government agency to get something done in a matter of days is nothing short of a miracle. Finding the right words takes time.

My concern here is that the words may create a sense of fear – or even be interpreted as a dare. The point is to encourage hikers to refrain from using this part of the trail until the situation is resolved.

I know that responsible people are trying to come up with a way to keep hikers and their small pets safe, while letting the coyotes finish raising their pups, so they can move on. I have tremendous respect for Ranger Tim Sullivan.

What do I wish the sign had said?

I came up with “Hikers Be Advised: Coyotes Denning,” and “Coyote den near trail. No hiking until further notice.”

I’m not sure those words would elicit the desired response. Like I said, finding the right words takes time.

I don’t want anyone reading this to feel belittled or embarrassed. But I do hope someone removes the apostrophe. I also hope that someone finds the right words to help wildlife and hikers to co-exist. Then I hope they make the sign, so it’s ready for the next time it’s needed.

1 comment:

fireofsorrow said...

This reminds me of the conversation Zeb and I had when we bought the "Beware of Dog" sign. I wished it had said "Be Aware of Dog." I didn't want to convey the wrong idea about our dogs, just a caution to trespassers and would-be theives.