All about grammatical fascism

Grammar Nazis are a necessary evil when editing papers.
Grammar Nazis are a necessary evil when editing papers.

I will freely admit this from the start — I am a Grammar Nazi; it is not something I am overly proud of, but is also not something I will keep hidden. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the term, being a Grammar Nazi has nothing to do with racism, fascism or anything else you might associate with the former German political party of the same name; instead, the term describes one who is fanatical about proper grammar, both their own and that of other people.

There is nothing inherently wrong with being a Grammar Nazi; having respect for the rules of a language is not going to directly hurt anyone. Nevertheless, I have rarely heard much good said of people who scrupulously follow the rules of grammar. Indeed, the term, insofar as it calls to mind a certain mustachioed dictator from the ‘40s, seems to be meant more as a derogatory expression than anything else. The reason this term has become an insult is the attitude that Grammar Nazis as a group tend to have when using their knowledge. If such people stopped their commentaries on language at spell-checking or proofreading important emails, then I would have nothing to write about right now. The problem is most Grammar Nazis will not be content to do just that.

I do not know whether or not it is some psychological factor that drives Grammar Nazis, and if so, just what factors, but most of the time, Grammar Nazis feel compelled to locate and note every error, no matter how small, that they find in someone’s speech, texts, emails and other communications. Every “who” that should be “whom,” every missing capital letter — these are indicated very pointedly, even in a very informal context. Although a Grammar Nazi might be correct as far as the rules of language go, the insistence on pointing out the errors in another’s linguistic abilities violates a more fundamental rule, that it is polite and therefore correct to ignore other people’s flaws in minor matters. After all, considering how rude it will strike many people to be corrected on the rather trivial matter of grammar, it cannot be said that Grammar Nazis are perfect in any sense either.

There is also the issue that, most of the time, Grammar Nazis are not experts on the English language, so they really are not qualified to go around making corrections for other people. Perhaps someone with a Ph.D. in English (or at least some level of English major) can legitimately claim expertise in the subject and thus qualification to comment on others’ grammar, but I doubt many Grammar Nazis can say that much about themselves, myself included. However, to say that non-English majors are totally unqualified as far as the language is concerned is not fair either; one can know a thing or two about English, but that would not be regarded as any qualification for a matter requiring actual expertise.

A Grammar Nazi is ultimately just a person expressing their opinion, and like any other opinion, it is not necessarily agreed on by everyone. Nevertheless, there are limits, as with any opinion, on how far someone can express their opinion without offending others, and though it might not always be the case, in general Grammar Nazis exceed those limits. Hence, it is too difficult to truly justify the attitude behind Grammar Nazism.

Grammar Nazis are not really the most pleasant types to be around, given their propensity for correcting even minor flaws. There are, however, several qualities of such grammatical fanaticism that are beneficial in a larger (but admittedly less personal) sense. Paradoxically, Grammar Nazis can add diversity to the language, despite having an inherently conservative view of it. English has no single authority on grammar, so it is often up to the grammatically minded individual to decide what is correct in some especially ambiguous cases. Whether or not to use the Oxford comma might not be a question for most people (some might not even know what the Oxford comma is), but it remains a contentious issue every week for me because, though I was taught to use it, the comma’s use goes against AP style, so it gets removed much to my angst (no offense to the editors).

This seeming benevolence is due to what I believe is some twisted sense of superiority, the idea that the Grammar Nazi has the right to impose the language they believe is correct on others regardless of what they believe.

However, knowing a Grammar Nazi personally can also have its perks. For example (and I hope I am not the only one like this), a Grammar Nazi is probably quite willing to help someone get the correct spelling for a word they are unsure on, or to assist in editing any essay or other formal writing. Furthermore, you can always count on being able to understand what a Grammar Nazi writes or says, because they will be very precise and clear with how they word sentences and will check the spelling of written words.

I will conclude by saying this much: At least it is easier to read this Grammar Nazi’s opinion compared to the “grammar anarchy” of some poorly written text message.

 

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