Grammar Nazis: Useful Language Experts, Or Elitist Snobs?

from the well-this-ought-to-be-fun dept

I know that my grammar is not ideal, though I really do strive to get the basics right. There are times, however, when I feel that the strict "rules" that are put forth by grammar go too far. If the text makes the point in a way that people can understand, what is the problem? On top of that, there's the utter snobbishness with which some (no, not all!) grammar aficionados put down anyone who makes a silly mistake. I have no problem with someone letting me know about a typo or a grammatical problem in a friendly and useful manner -- but all too often the message is delivered in the tone suggesting that making such an elementary grammatical error suggests that I obviously never made it out of the second grade. So I'm glad to see an English professor taking on the grammar nazis.

Salon is running a review of a new book by English professor Jack Lynch, called The Lexicographer's Dilemma, which argues that grammar nazis should chill out. Grammar rules are mostly to make people feel elite, not to make them any clearer, according to the book. Again, I have no problem with basic grammar rules for the sake of clarity, but focusing too much on the rules over the clarity is a mistake, and it's nice to see at least some "experts" agreeing.

Filed Under: english, grammar, language


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  1. identicon
    Beta, 29 Oct 2009 @ 1:03pm

    In no particular order...


    1. It's a matter of courtesy. As DCX2 and others have pointed out, grammatical errors are an unpleasant distraction to the reader. And that's at best, when the errors aren't severe enough to render the text incomprehensibabble.
    2. It's a matter of credibility. If the writer didn't know how to write correctly (or didn't bother) then it's that much less likely that the content will be worth the effort to untangle. A non-native writer is the exception that proves the rule-- I will pass over a lot of small mistakes if I know that English is not the author's first language, because I know that they have nothing to do with the qualities of mind that produce good content.
    3. It's a matter of public mental hygiene. Sloppy language can obscure sloppy thinking, so that sometimes a whole argument (or political philosophy) depends entirely on bad usage for its survival. (Don't believe me? Consider the word "need".) To discourage sloppy language is to promote an environment where bad ideas can't spread easily.

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