If you have spent much time on the internet you might have heard of a group of Internet Warriors known as Grammar Nazis. Grammar Nazis are Webbians who make fun of others inability to do Grammar, that stuff what makes you’re sentence look smart.
Grammar Nazis have gotten a lot of flack lately. Most famously from comedian Stephen Fry, a well learned linguist (as well as a million other things). He made a very long speech about Grammar Nazis, which can be summarized as “they’re a bunch of annoying jerks”. While I do respect the opinions of the Great Stephen Fry, I will have to disagree with him on this (and my saying that does not make me anti-Semitic, homophobic, discriminatory towards the mentally ill or… God, what minority doesn’t he belong to? You see what I mean about him being a million things?). I have decided to go against the flow, and defend self-described Nazis.
Before I defend Grammar Nazis, I feel we need to categorize them. To me, there are two types of Grammar Nazis,
Constructive Grammar Nazis, or CGNs. Say somebody were to send me a text that says “your great” and I were to respond with “*you’re”, that would make me a CGN. I am pointing out the faults of someone else, but offering a solution, trying to help them effectively build a skill.
Destructive Grammar Nazis, or DGNs. Let’s say the same friend sent me the same text, but rather than replying with a correction, I were to ask them “Do you think Grammar is a game?” or send them a photo making fun of their lack of Grammatical skill. I am merely trying to make fun of them, rather than trying to develop a skill.
I feel most people’s objections directed at Grammar Nazis are aimed towards DGNs specifically. People feel humiliated, especially over what they feel are relatively minor faults. How on Earth can such jerks be defended, you might ask?
Tell me, have you ever laughed at the ignorance of others? Odds are, yes. More often than not, humor is derived from the feeling of “Thank God I’m not that person”. It’s how we can laugh at cartoons like Tom and Jerry, rather than be horrified by the fact that a cat is getting sliced into many pieces / is being blown up by TNT / Steps on a million thumbtacks / [Insert Tom and Jerry skit here]. We find people thinking stupid thoughts, like Jessica Simpson saying “Is this chicken [that I’m eating], or is this fish? I know it’s tuna, but [the tin] says Chicken by the Sea.” We laugh because it is common knowledge that a Tuna isn’t a Chicken. We don’t stop to think that we may be hurting the feelings of this woman, because we have already deemed her as less worthy of respect due to a seeming lack of intellect.
Humans find humor in mocking others who show a lack of common knowledge. We find this socially acceptable, as that person (outside of learning disorders) should know certain things by this point in their life. To which I ask, why the double standard around mocking someone for their lack of grammatical skill?
We are taught grammar rules from the moment we learn to read. This is knowledge that is given to us from before we reach the first year of education proper. Grammar rules are common knowledge. I would posit that mocking someone for improper use of your/you’re is just as justified as mocking Jessica Simpson for questioning whether or not her Tuna was actually Chicken. If I were to ask a four-year old, I wouldn’t expect them to be able to scientifically tell me the difference between a chicken and tuna (apart from the obvious feathers/scales) and I wouldn’t expect the four-year old to be able to tell me when to use your or you’re. However, I would expect a teenager to tell me the difference.
I think the reason there is so much hate for Grammar Nazis is because a DGN (and sometimes even a CGN) makes people feel bad. People are made to feel inferior by the actions of a DGN. That is terrible. However, I feel the need to point out that that is probably exactly how Jessica Simpson felt when people mocked her for her Tuna/Chicken line. If we are to say that Grammar Nazis are just a bunch of jerks for pointing out people’s flaws, I feel that we should forgo any form of making fun of people’s lack of intellect entirely. That may seem like a lot of humor being lost, but it would prevent us from becoming hypocrites.
As a side note, I would like to point out that mocking a non-Native English speaker or a person with a learning disability under the guise of being a Grammar Nazi is not OK. While we expect Native English speakers to know certain grammar rules, a person who is learning English or a person with learning difficulties should not be held to the same standard due to different situations growing up. Similarly, we must not mock somebody who may speak a different dialect as not speaking “Proper English”. Being a Grammar Nazi is arguably OK, as long as the person being made fun of is intending to speak the same dialect as you and speaks said dialect fluently.
While CGNs are far more acceptable in the eyes of society, DGNs aren’t. They are viewed as people who merely point out the flaws in other people’s writing just to give themselves a sense of superiority, but at the same time, don’t we all do that whenever we make fun of someone for being dumb? Society doesn’t like DGNs, not because DGNs are bad, but because they’re a mirror. They show society what it truly looks like.
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