Why we shouldn’t be Grammar Nazis

Let’s not make “Nazi” a generic term for someone who is picky or strident or annoying or precise. You probably wouldn’t call yourself a grammar serial killer or a grammar terrorist or say that you’re part of grammar ISIS, so don’t call yourself a grammar Nazi.

I’m with Mignon Fogerty (Grammar Girl) that we need to stop calling people Grammar Nazis. But I disagree with her “why.” While she’s right that no person wants to be associated with bigoted violence, we also have no right to judge another’s English use.

First, it’s rather egotistical and only flaunting your privilege. While you have attended 16 years of formal, structured education, that’s actually unique. And there are many reasons for that. The person may be from a place with limited schooling options. They may have been supporting their family instead of attending. The only school in the area may have been under-served. Ever been in a classroom with 30 students? It’s not that rare, and definitely doesn’t encourage learning. The person may have English as their second, third, or even sixth language. And who learned it informally; possibly while fleeing for their lives.

The other reason is that they probably haven’t made an error. You may be correct for the English you know, but there are three main, and evolving dialects, and hundreds of localizations within those. The English language is also more than 1,400 years old and has continually evolved. It only started being codified in 1755 by Samuel Johnson. Noah Webster wrote the first American English dictionary in 1828. That’s a lot of language evolution in 1,200 years before any standardizations commenced. When you’re picking a fault, you may be both right, for your understanding of English.

For the three main dialects, they are also mixing and evolving thanks to the internet and television widening exposure to different ideas. When I was working at Marchex for a Canadian client, we introduced localization for the advertising content. Many Americans discovered they used UK English for many words. Looking at a little deeper (because we were curious), all of these people were Doctor Who fans. Thank you, BBC.

In Australia, what’s the name of the small shop where you bought bread and milk before 7Eleven, Food Plus, and 24/7 supermarkets? (milk bar, deli, or corner shop) For everyone else, what’s the sweet fizzy beverage called? (soda, pop, fizzy, soft drink, soda pop) How do you spell the sparkly ornaments one wears on their body? (jewelry or jewellery) Was that knowledge learned or learnt? Should closing punctuation be inside or outside of quotes? Those are all correct and from the three main dialects.

Sure, there are times we need language to conform—I’m picky with guest posts on TapDancingSpiders.com—but as a wise woman told me, as long as the message is clear, does to, too, or two, or even 2 really matter? Let’s stop being Grammar Nazis and encourage communication.

“My spelling is Wobbly. It’s good spelling but it Wobbles, and the letters get in the wrong places.”
― A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh

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Grammar nazi is a horrible term for so many reasons but the biggest is we need to encourage language use, not criticize those learning.

More about Bianca

Bianca Smith lives in the cold and occasionally snowy Pacific Northwest - and she loves it. She's adventuring life in her adopted country and blogging along the way.

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