I come from a long line of people with too much education to sit idly by and watch language standards deteriorate. Both my grandfather and my mother used to write letters signed "The Mad Grammarian" to editors and others, pointing out egregious grammar errors and giving little usage lessons. I believe this may be my calling as well.
Last week I stumbled across a hilarious blog entry listing three recent, separate instances on Salon where the word "grizzly" was used instead of "grisly." I had noticed at least one of those myself, but the Mad Grammarian had not begun to rouse herself fully. Coincidentally, the edition of "Lady Chatterley's Lover" I read recently had the same homophone error referring to a "grizzly skeleton." I don't know if the error originated with Lawrence or the editor of that edition, but it gave me a fleeting mental picture of a bear's bones.
Yesterday I passed a sign that said "These premises monitored with close circuit television." How is the circuit close? Is it nearby? Extremely chummy with other circuits? No, it's a closed circuit. Think! Think!
That's akin to my other pet peeve, "first come, first serve." What, do they hand you a volleyball and let you lob it over a net? No, if you get there first, you shall be served first.
A lot of grammar errors stem from failure to consider what the words mean. Children do it all the time, even making up elaborate rationales for their misheard phrases. I remember the Beverly Cleary character Ramona and her conviction that the national anthem was about some kind of lamp called a "dawnzer" that gave a "lee light." Grownups should be expected to think things through a little more, though.
I worked at Sears all through college and stood underneath a gigantic sign that read, "Lay-A-Way." Aaaghh! Yet another term ripped apart and divorced from its meaning. There's nothing difficult to comprehend about the idea of having the store "lay a purchase away" until you finish paying for it. I guess it's just not "catchy" enough.
Now that my inner Mad Grammarian has been awakened, I vow to no longer sit idly by when I spot these kinds of errors. Sloppy editors and illiterate sign-makers beware! The War of the Apostrophe is at hand! Dictionary.com is there for a reason. Use it!