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We're all grammar nazi's

Updated on June 21, 2013
Davorunner profile image

I love to write, I have been writing and journaling since I was very young, and I especially enjoy short stories, parodies and poetry.

Good point. If you want your meaning to be clear, it's best to make your sentence clear.
Good point. If you want your meaning to be clear, it's best to make your sentence clear. | Source

Ah, Grammar Nazis, you gotta love ‘em, right?, RIGHT?

It’s interesting that the phrase isn’t “spelling nazis” or “punctuation nazis” or “sentence structure sticklers”. It makes me think that the phrase came from people that at least knew something about language and/or grammar – perhaps the insult was an inside job!

The term, I believe, is a kind of ‘phantom term’ like the ‘friend zone’ which doesn’t really mean anything, but gives the speaker of the phrase a way to complain about something they struggle with, or don’t fully understand. It doesn't really have much meat to it, but you seem to see or hear about it a lot.

Here is an interesting thought: We are ALL grammar nazis Yes, even those who claim not to care about language, deep down, (but perhaps not as deep as you might think) can be somewhat of a grammar nazi.

Here I submit my first piece of evidence. If someone writes, or texts or posts, about their favourite book, movie, tv, or cartoon/anime character, and spell their name wrong, or misconstrue a detail, you can see how fast people jump on their keyboards to criticize. Good old hary poter, Obi one canobi, signfeld – see how jarring that is? How much does the apostrophe in the title irk you? (even though that's more punctuation, but the point still stands!) See how much it makes you cringe inside? It’s simply because you care about getting your favourite character’s details right more than the other person, and you may want to help them not make that mistake again, or it could be that you can’t bear seeing your precious thing that you care about treated with such ignorance.

What if I mix up animal species, or car makes and models, or leave out something important in a recipe? You call attention to it, or you want to. If someone quotes a misquoted or out of date fact, you feel the need to correct them. Why? Because they got it WRONG. The spelling, or categorization, or information was wrong or misleading. You’re correcting the way they described something, or the way they used their words – their grammar.

What about song lyrics? I had a friend who once thought The Fray had sung “alone in the paradise” instead of “alone in the bitterness” I had to correct it because he was singing the wrong words, and putting different meaning into the actual song, and making himself look silly to the people who knew the lyrics. Yes I know, listening to it, it sounds a bit ambiguous, but sometimes we need to fact check before believing or listening to things blindly. On that note, however, there are so many subjects and topics, and categories on the planet, it’s impossible to get everything right all the time. But I was still being a ‘grammar nazi’ – “That’s not how it goes!” or “You’re using the words incorrectly!” That’s what you’re saying, in essence. The difference is that you’re being pedantic about one tiny part of a leaf on a tree in a forest. It would be like you ignoring someone who corrected you for getting the tree name wrong, but then insist on making sure that people get all the parts of the leaves correct.

Sure, there are people who do this in a mean or condescending way, but that’s just a different form of bullying. If you’re honestly helping someone by pointing out a basic mistake, you’re actually doing them a favour. Just as if you had food on your face, or a piece of clothing inside out or back to front, if someone points it out you will avoid further embarrassment. You would first get embarrassed and then thank the person for telling you before things got even worse. So why do people get upset when it comes to language? Perhaps it is because it is something that we all can do. If someone insults your mechanical knowledge, and you have no interest in mechanics then you won’t care so much. The insult won’t stick. But because we all can speak and learn a language (or rather, many languages) it can feel like a personal attack. “I can’t believe you didn’t know such a basic thing at your age…!”

I guess it’s because we should care about language at least a little more than we do. We need it to communicate and to express ideas about every other topic of interest. Or as David Crystal says in his Little Book of Languages “Language is different from every other subject you’ll ever study, because language is a part of everything you’ll ever study”. Or as Benjamin Lee Whorf puts it: “A change of language can transform our appreciation of the cosmos”. Believe it or not, we only experience everything through the lens of our language. When we look at, or do something new, we can only use language we have been brought up with to describe it. We can’t think without it.

Having made my point, I return to my original question. You gotta love grammar nazis otherwise you’d be pointing the finger at yourself. You may not be as extreme as some, but as long as you’re passionate about something then, inevitably, you’ll be passionate about that particular leaf of the language tree in the language forest.

Thank you for taking the time to read this, and I hope I've been able to help you grow slightly more passionate (but not pedantic) about the rest of the wonderful forest we live in.


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    • profile image

      Davorunner 4 years ago

      Oh, sorry to disappoint. Perhaps I should've said we can't form thoughts without it. We would certainly still have the ability to use that part of our brain in some way, but probably not as clear.

      The main point though that language is a part of everything else we do.

      You seem to have a good knowledge about this, so I value your comment. I just like learning new things, so if there's an area I've neglected to research then I will get to it as soon as I can. Thanks for the comment.

    • profile image

      Brewster 4 years ago

      Man, I was right there with you all the way, cheering and planning to use some of your points the next time somebody got pissy at me for pointing out their poor use of language -- and then you played the Whorf card. His idea that "we only experience everything through the lens of our language .... We can’t think without it" hasn't been credible for over fifty years, since the beginning of cognitive science. The only groups who still take it seriously are post-modernists and cultural anthropologists (I know, 90% overlap), who barely know anything about academic linguistics and certainly *don't* know anything about cognition.

    • profile image

      Davorunner 4 years ago

      Yeah, it's all a learning process. I still get affect and effect mixed up even though I've researched the meaning of those words over and over

    • RachaelLefler profile image

      Rachael Lefler 4 years ago from Illinois

      I have my own writing issues that I think only time and practice can really resolve. For example, I use some adjectives way too often (like unique) and also have a problem with long run-on sentences.

    • Davorunner profile image

      Davorunner 4 years ago from Australia

      Thanks Abbasangel, that's a good attitute to have, anything that helps is a bonus.

      And some good points there RachaelLefler, I tend to get irked, but like you said, at myself for missing it.

      I actually wanted to put some jarring thing in it, and thought about many off-putting headings , as the one I wrote called "It's their to where you're patients away", but I didn't want it to be THAT obnoxious, or off putting, just a minor thing that could either spark discussion, or prove that everyone has it in them to correct something that isn't right.

      I'm not perfect, but I always appreciate legitimate tips or editing clarifications.

      Some people may not have high levels of education etc, but I wonder why they'd be writing for a site like this, instead of first getting someone they know to check over it, or learning a bit more first. Kudos to them for the effort, but I wouldn't start teaching someone how to swim if I couldn't do it that well.

      But then again, as language is so diverse, so is every person.

    • RachaelLefler profile image

      Rachael Lefler 4 years ago from Illinois

      That having been said, in this case I made an exception only to highlight the irony of misspelling the title of a grammar article. But I usually as a rule do not comment on the grammar of an article (sometimes I prefer to silently down-vote one with too many grammatical mistakes or otherwise atrocious writing). The reason I don't do this is that there are many reasons someone may not use "correct" grammar. These include: 1) Being inexperienced as a writer 2) Not having a high level of education 3) Not being raised with English as their first language or primary language spoken in the home 4) Being from another culture with different grammatical and linguistic influences. Plus, the bad grammar in many poorly written blog articles is usually constant throughout; so that if you were to pick out each and every grammatical mistake you'd look like some kind of obsessive-compulsive freak.

    • RachaelLefler profile image

      Rachael Lefler 4 years ago from Illinois

      I always check my own stuff for spelling and grammar errors and read my own stuff often to re-write sentences to communicate more effectively. If someone pointed out a grammatical or other error in one of my posts, yeah I might get mad but mostly at myself for missing that one. It ultimately does you a favor. Editing your work for clarity is important.

    • Abbasangel profile image

      Abbasangel 4 years ago from Australia - The land down under

      I think this is a very accurate observation. Even if put in a way to seek out the Grammar Nazis. I'm enjoying anything that helps with my writing.

      You're right we all do care about certain things in language that are important to us. I know I am prone to spelling out my name so people get it right. (And missing an ingredient in a recipe is a nightmare!)

    • Davorunner profile image

      Davorunner 4 years ago from Australia

      Oh and thanks for proving exactly what I wrote about in the article. Although wouldn't you want to write something a bit more of use if you take the time to comment?

    • profile image

      Davorunner 4 years ago

      I know :p I had to embed a recurring mistake for the effect, as I said, see how jarring it is?

    • RachaelLefler profile image

      Rachael Lefler 4 years ago from Illinois

      grammar nazis* :p


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