After my long, tongue-in-cheek post on the Commandments of Writing, an event comes along that perfectly illustrates the importance of correctly using punctuation, or at the very least, using correct quotes (in context). The case in point was the monument to Martin Luther King Jr. at the National Mall. The plans had a quote from MLK that should have been: If you want to say I was a drum major, say I was a drum major for justice, peace and righteousness. But the architect and the sculptor thought that the monument would look better with fewer words, and so they cut out half the sentence: I was a drum major for justice, peace and righteousness, and carved it in stone.
No one that knew King liked the shortened quote. Maybe they would have liked it if only the sculptor had included the ellipsis, as he should have, in the beginning of the quote: …I was a drum major for justice, peace and righteousness. — So much better and less ‘arrogant’ sounding, right? (Maya Angelou said the truncated quote made MLK sound like an arrogant twit)
Okay, the truth is that the Commandments of Writing couldn’t have saved this particular butchering of the quote, but at least the sculptor would have been following “Elements of Style” and would have been completely, grammatically correct. And that’s all that matters when you are carving words into stone. Right?
It’s a big letdown, as usual when it comes to DC politics and projects, not because the words now have to be carved again, probably by the same sculptor who decided it looked better without the full quote, or because it will cost more, or no one thought to make sure it was done right before it was unveiled. All of that is called “common sense” in the Midwest as is this, the real reason for the letdown on this project: never leave an architect in charge.