On Grammar Nazis

Off the Wireby Chris Gautreau

I’ve spent more than 25 years as a professional writer. Not saying I’m great, but I’ve found a way to make a living at it, and I’ve been lucky enough to learn from some really talented people.

That’s why I feel fairly confident in telling self-appointed grammar Nazis that they really need to chill the fuck out. Angry shit doesn’t help anyone, especially those of us who actually work as professional communicators.

In the first place, you’d think grammar Nazis would be smart enough to figure out that, as languages go, English is pretty fucked-up. If the guys who built the Chernobyl nuclear plant had been on a three-day peyote bender, they still couldn’t have built a language more complicated than English, the bastard stepchild of medieval German duct-taped with some Romance language for added confusion.

If the guys who built the Chernobyl nuclear plant had been on a three-day peyote bender, they still couldn’t have built a language more complicated than English.

While capable of beauty and great breadth of expression, English is a dirty-ass mongrel. It’s the Heinz 57 dog of languages that, compared to many others, especially its own ancestors, is one hell of a clunky, laborious way for human beings to communicate.

It’s really unfair, therefore, to blame someone for not knowing the vagaries of apostrophes, possessives, or the pluperfect verb tense. A person who has trouble identifying whether a coordinating conjunction needs a goddam comma or the difference between nauseous and nauseated can hardly be accused of being dumb, lazy, or disrespectful. Mainly because most of those people have, you know, shit to do.

Besides, grammar Nazis are often wrong. Just wrong.

Passive voice is incorrect? No, it’s not. Active voice is considered preferred, but passive voice is not grammatically incorrect.

Don’t split infinitives? Bullshit. This one comes from the fact that Latin infinitives are never split – because they’re always one fucking word, which is obviously not the case with English.

Never end a sentence with a preposition? As Winston Churchill supposedly said, “That is something up with which I will not put.” See how fucked-up that shit is?

Here’s the worst part about grammar Nazis: They’re angry dicks. Or at least, that’s how they come across most of the time.

As a writer, I’m the first to agree that people should speak and write correctly in English, mainly because doing so leads to fewer mistakes and more concise communication.

Here’s the worst part about grammar Nazis: They’re angry dicks. Or at least, that’s how they come across most of the time.

But if I feel the need to point out that someone used an object pronoun where a subject pronoun is needed, I try to resist the urge to jump their shit like I just walked up on a 6-year-old carjacking my grandma. When I edit other people’s writing, which I do often, I try to go about it in a way that actually encourages people to write and communicate and discover language, even if I know deep down inside that likely won’t happen.

If any ranking member of grammar’s Third Reich would allow it, I’d love to follow you around for a day and yell out each and every airhead, shit-for-brains mistake you make on the job, behind the wheel of a car, and with your personal relationships. In fact, I have a feeling that many of the people around you already do that. They’re probably texting each other behind your back right now in SENtenCes tHat LOOk LIke thiS.RedShtick-Top-ColumnStop

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