The grammarbot (grammar robot or grammar bot)

The grammarbot (grammar robot)

This spectacular bit of tomfoolery was cooked up by Jos Claerbout with a little help from his friend Andy Bates.

Jos noticed that the WWW exhibits a massive volume of bad grammar, and he also noticed that zillions of examples of bad grammar are readily found using any search engine such as Lycos or Alta Vista.

He cooked up a perl script that would use Lycos to find pages with a specified grammatical error and also to look for a "mailto" on the offending page. During the testing, Jos did not quite dare automate everything for fear that he might have made a blunder and for even greater fear of a barrage of hostile return mail. To prevent this, the perl script brings up a couple lines of the page with the error for verification by the schemers. Then at the push of a button, a letter would be sent. He could check and send up to about a dozen emails a minute.

His first letter was for people with pages that failed to correctly distinguish between "loses" and "looses". Here it is:

Responses of non-native English speakers were generally thankful and humble. Native speakers, on the other hand, tended to write long letters disagreeing about what separates man from the apes.

Audacity runs amuck

He still feared that wholesale use of his grammarbot might evoke a deluge of hostile responses (along with the appreciative ones.) Not wanting to cause any trouble for his friends (or employer) who loaned him resources, he was very careful. If he was going to automate the sending of zillions of emails correcting people's grammar, he thought he might need to hide his identity. He had to learn the tricks that spammers know. He arranged to have all return mail sent to a place known as "ragemail". Then he was ready for his next audacious bit of grammar correcting, the word "get's" with an apostrophe.

The letter below leaves me speechless. He had already sent out his first trial mailing. Would he have the audacity to mass mail it? Unknown to all of us, time was running out. Here is what he had prepared for the "get's" sinners:

It's the truth

OK, OK, so you think this is all a made up story? You don't believe the grammarbot is real, and you'd like me to prove it works? Or you wonder what the world thinks of having its grammar corrected? I'm not sure exactly how you do it, but I think all you need is the perl script. Maybe you'd like to see his working directory too. It should be all here. It looks like about a dozen "get's" sinners did get a letter from the grammarbot before his time ran out.

One more thing: If you plan on sending many letters, and want to peruse the replies, you might want to learn more about "ragemail" and get your own account there. Too bad we can't find the replies that Jos collected.

We'll just need to find a reader out there on the WWW to pick up where Jos left off. How about you?

return to the Life of Jos Claerbout