The Grammar Nazi

There is a collective awareness among language afficionados that a common understanding of grammar, syntax and punctuation is slowly disappearing from modern written communication.  As it becomes easier to communicate across so many platforms, the formality of the written word is losing much of its official structure.  This is frustrating to many who believe that expressing yourself clearly and correctly is important to any and all communication.  I count myself one of those people.

It is, or at least it should be, unacceptable for there to be glaring grammatical errors in news, any work-related correspondence or documents or anything written for mass consumption.  The advent of internet-capable mobile devices has caused even official emails to look conversational to the point of seeming like a text message between friends.  This is something worthy of fighting against.

I cheer on my brothers and sisters who understand the difference between gerunds and participles, who struggle to restructure a thought to avoid ending a sentence with a preposition and who remember that active voice is always a stronger choice than passive voice.  I am with you in this fight.

However, in the attempt to ensure that the accepted rules are remembered and followed, some have taken up the grammar banner and drawn a line in the sand as if to say, “Enough!”  They are committed to correcting any and all errors they come across.

I understand this feeling, but there are times when demonstrating one’s superior knowledge does nothing to teach or change and really just makes you look like a snob.  I realize the irony that those most likely to read this blog are also the most likely to want to correct the errors of others, and those who make mistakes unknowingly on a regular basis are the least likely to have read this far anyway.

So, I’m talking to us.  If there’s an error in a news article – point it out, absolutely.  If work product crosses your desk with a glaring mistake – feel free to chew that person’s face off.  These are easy choices and mistakes that should definitely be corrected.

Social media seems to be the most challenging environment for the aggressive Grammar Nazi.  I have some unsolicited suggestions.  When your acquaintance posts “We just bought a new house, super excited, its so beautiful!”  Choose not to be the person whose only comment below is “*it’s”.  Yes, you are correct, but so what?  Do you really think that person is going to change their entire understanding of the English language because of your comment?  They are not.  Now you just look like douche.  An articulate douche, but a douche nonetheless.

My mother was an English teacher before I was born and my father worked in Human Resources editing contracts.  They still correct me and my adult siblings over dinner.  I have to fight the urge to do the same thing with my friends in casual conversation or in social media writing, so I really do get it.

I challenge you to ask yourself this, “Am I truly attempting to affect change in this person’s ability to communicate, or am I just demonstrating my frustration with a statement that simply demonstrates my own superior understanding?”  Or more simply, “Does it matter?”  I know among many of my writerly-oriented friends the snap answer is, “it always matters.”  You are not wrong.  However, if years of education did not teach this individual the rules of syntax, you are not going to accomplish it with a snarky Facebook post or tweet either.

Additionally, autocorrect is wreaking havoc on basic words as well.  My own  autocorrect believes “well” is supposed to be “we’ll” and “he’ll” is supposed be “hell” along with regularly choosing “they’re” regardless of which of the three I intend to write.  Sometimes they slip by as I hit send.  You might also consider before making a correction that has nothing to do with the actual context of a discussion you are joining, “do I think this person is a complete and total moron?”  If not, let it go.  Seriously.

Finally, there are truly wonderful moments in social media where being the Grammar Nazi can be a fantastic way to attack someone’s intelligence when they deserve it.  Consider this tweet “Hey all you homos, your going to hell!”  Now, it is impossible to change this person’s mind in a 140-character response, and it’s a waste of your time to try to do so.  In this instance, a succinct response of “*you’re” makes you seem smart, funny and allows the Grammar Nazi impulse to be exercised while making the point that the argument is so ludicrous that even the word choice is wrong.

Yes, the rules of grammar, spelling and punctuation are woefully misunderstood if not completely ignored in modern communication.  I’m sure your English teachers greatly appreciate the battle you are waging to ensure they are not lost.  I cheer you as you do it – just don’t be an asshole about it.


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