Letter from a Reformed Grammar Nazi


IMG_20130130_193155 Take a second to look at this photo. What you are seeing is a cold-hearted, cruel monster, a villain of the highest order. I am a member of that elite dark order of cyber bullies about which you have been cautioned. I use my assumed superiority to publicly shame friends and enemies alike under the guise of helping them. I lurk in comment threads with daggers of indignity, waiting to pluck at the failures of my fellows. I am that creature who cannot allow even the smallest infractions to pass, eagerly poised with an asterisk at my fingertips for the least grammatical mistake. That’s right. I’m a Grammar Nazi. Or I was.

It all started when I became an English Major. I’m certain many of you understand how such a descent into malevolence can begin with such a choice. After taking so many classes on the “proper” use of English, I began to feel that I was master of all words, which was great for my own confidence. Unfortunately, that supposed mastery made me feel entitled to judge others, to correct their mistakes regardless of the context in which we interacted. I corrected status updates and clucked over spelling errors in blog posts. I shared memes that explained how English grammar is so simple, one must be an utter moron to confuse “your” and “you’re.” I scorned the practices of text-speak as base and pitied those who foolishly ended a sentence with a prepositional phrase. I was embarrassed by the ignorantly written posts by my own family. I’m an English Major and my own brother doesn’t know how to use capitals and punctuation! How could I ever show my face if people found out I was related to someone who used “lol” as a period?

This snobbery leeched its way off the computer and into my life. I was most critical of my fellow English Majors, who should certainly know better. How could they expect anyone to take them seriously if they talked like that? Ums and uhs and likes and you knows and, the most hated of all phrases, “I was just gonna say.”  You probably said that exact phrase today and perhaps caught the look on my face of utter contempt. Forget the fact that “just” implies that you are apologetic about your own opinion and that it is obvious you’re “gonna say” something as your mouth is open and words are falling out. I can’t stand the “I was.” It implies that you are correcting your own assertion (I was going to say this, but now I am going to say this), which isn’t what you mean at all since you never correct yourself. What you mean is that this is what you think but it is probably wrong and you just wanted to point out something you thought was significant fully aware that it might not be. You’re asking permission to speak your mind and it drives me out of mine.

It was all going so well. I was fully entitled to label others as dumb or ignorant at the drop of an apostrophe. Then I started taking linguistic-based classes and my world of supremacy began to crumble. As I learned more about the history of English as a language, my certainty that there was a wrong way to use it eroded away. It seemed that correct spelling and grammar was an invention of xenophobes looking to protect the “purity” of the mother tongue from the scourge of foreigners. Further study of English showed that it was a fluid language, evolving over hundreds of years in clear linguistic patterns until we reached its youngest incarnation, African American Vernacular, which turns out not to be some broken conglomeration of English and slang but a legitimate dialect with its own grammatical structure. It became ever clearer that not only is there no wrong way to use English, there may not even be a right way, either. Language is for communication, so as long as someone is communicating it doesn’t matter whether she says “it’s going good” instead of “it’s going well.” I can believe I have been so petty that I will deliberately misunderstand someone’s post if it isn’t written to the same standard as my formal essays.

When I see a bigoted rant about how foreigners should speak English if they’re going to live here, I feel truly smug because there is always some kind of grammatical or spelling error. But is my editing any different from people complaining about having to press “1” for English? My claims of superiority over others based on language use, I now realize, is no different from bigotry in other forms. Racism, sexism, grammarism: all ways to make people in power feel that they deserve to be in power.

It will take a lot of work to reform myself of this unfair bias. I will probably always mutter “well” under my breath every time “good” is improperly used and I will flinch at misspelled or confused words. However, I will try to keep my proofreading to academic papers and resist devaluing people according to arbitrary linguistical rules, allowing such insignificant errors to distract me from the glory that is expression through language. Language is the greatest gift of the human race and I am ashamed that I ever saw it as a tool for belittling other human beings.

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2 Comments

15AM00000092011 · 09:42

2 responses to “Letter from a Reformed Grammar Nazi

  1. I bet you hate reading my blog. LOL! I’m all over the place

  2. I forgot my period at the end of it… so here it is. .

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