Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Stop bad grammar, period!

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It may fall short of being the good-news story of the year, but I am happy to report the satisfactory (and personally satisfying) resolution of an outrage that has caused me no end of sleepless nights since 2004.

I refer, of course, to Red River College's notorious "Grammargate" scandal.

This was the case of the botched bronze plaque installed in the college's downtown campus library to commemorate college benefactors John and Bonnie Buhler. They had donated $500,000 to the building's construction, the largest private gift in Red River history.

In practice, however, the plaque was polluting the impressionable young minds of college library users, because it contained, engraved for the ages, a punctuation error and a grammatical error in its first two sentences.

I often lay awake fretting over the confusion inflicted upon Creative Communications students, some of whom might soon be clacking away at a work station near mine here at the Free Press. Would they have a grasp of comma placement? Would they know a dangling participle from their tweetable young asses?

Fortunately, a few weeks ago, the plaque was replaced, errors removed, the cost absorbed by Red River.

It took them a mere six years. The only thing that might have spurred them to quicker action would have been the misspelling of their president's name.

The original plaque, installed in June 2004 when the Princess Street building opened its doors, was prepared by a small advertising agency retained by Buhler himself. He assumed the text had been properly edited. The agency has since closed its doors.

The plaque's opening sentence read: "John Buhler, the son of a Mennonite immigrant achieved his dream of building tractors and employing a thousand Manitobans."

A comma was missing after the word immigrant. That comma is necessary to set off the parenthetical phrase "the son of a Mennonite immigrant."

The next sentence read: "Possessed of boundless optimism and business courage, his goal oriented focus... contributed to the fulfillment of that lifelong dream."

Oh, the scourge of the dangling modifier! It is Buhler, not his focus, that is possessed of boundless optimism.

Less seriously and perhaps a tad pedantically, "goal oriented" should have been hyphenated as a compound adjective.

I reported these little glitches in September 2004 after they were brought to my attention by a grammatically stern Red River insider.

At the time, a college official assured me that someone would look into the matter. Last January, more than five years later, my vigilant source forwarded me a WikiLeaks-like document, the minutes of a high-level college meeting, in which the college had ruled that the offending plaque would remain untouched.

It was too costly to replace, and, besides, why risk offending a valued donor?

But offending valued donors is my calling. I reported the college's note and asked Buhler for his reaction. The first words out of his mouth were: "I will pay to fix it."

In the end, Red River opted to foot the bill, putting their money where their educational mouths are. A college official wouldn't release the cost, but Buhler had previously estimated the bill at $2,500 to $3,000. Any day, I expect a receipt for my $10 donation to the cause, doubling the $5 Buhler suggested I contribute.

Some journalists save lives. Others bring down corrupt regimes. We all have our roles, even we humble grammar watchdogs.

I am emboldened, however. On the southeast corner of Burrows and Keewatin, at an intersection near the corner of the Free Press's Inkster Industrial Park building, sits a prosperous commercial development. A towering sign above it reads "Burrow's Crossing."

Oh, the scourge of the misplaced apostrophe! My goal is to see this outrage corrected before I retire.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 7, 2011 A11

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