What do you do in the unforgiving hours of a Sunday evening, that miserable time when the weekend gives way to the depressing thoughts of the week ahead? Park yourself in front of the telly? Surf the social media channels? Go to bed early? Or, like Bryan Henderson, do you undertake what you consider a public service, doing your little bit to make the world a better place?
Mr Henderson, it's safe to say, is a man with a mission, and every Sunday evening since August 14, 2006, this Californian software engineer has devoted his time to the cause of grammatical exactitude. We all have particular bugbears when it comes to the sloppy use of English - mine is the current vogue for “surreal”, often employed by those in the public eye to describe an extraordinary event - but Mr Henderson takes this to a whole new level.
He is waging a personal crusade against the use of “comprised of”, and thus far he has edited 47,000 entries in Wikipedia which contain this solecism. What's more, he has done them all by hand. Mr Henderson is truly the King Canute of the digital world, holding back the tide of bad grammar. Every week, another 70 or 80 instances of “comprised of” are injected into Wikipedia entries, and before he goes to bed on a Sunday, Mr Henderson logs on and corrects them all: he's got it down to a fine art, and each edit now takes him about 10 seconds.
As we all know, “comprised of” is wrong, and most usually should be replaced by “composed of”, as in “The Wikipedia community is composed of many interesting individuals, some of whom have rather peculiar obsessions”, or “The Wikipedia community comprises people with whom you wouldn't ordinarily want to get stuck in a lift.”
Mr Henderson may be dismissed as an oddity, a one-issue evangelist who has devoted his life to a rather arcane interest. But I think he's a modern-day hero. I wish I had the dedication to remove from public gaze all incidences of “hopefully” being used incorrectly, and I'd love to have the nerve and moral courage to correct people when they use split infinitives in speech (I know that's a step too far). And let's not talk about “literally”, which is now inserted in sentences like punctuation. I hate the way that people these days use commas instead of full stops, and when I hear “headed” instead of “heading” (as in “where are you headed?”) it drives me to distraction. But what do I do about it? I tut-tut to myself.
Not so Bryan Henderson. He thinks he's serving the greater good, in the way some people do voluntary work, or pick up litter from the street. “I really do think I'm doing a public service,” he told the online magazine medium.com. “But at the same time, I get something out of it myself.” What he derives, clearly, is a true sense of his own uniqueness. Lots of contributors correct mistakes on Wikipedia, but, he says proudly, “I'm the only one who concentrates on one aspect”. Top work, Mr Henderson. Correct use of English comprises many rules, and the world is composed of people who pay no attention to them.
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