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. icon
    Nick Coghlan (profile), 29 Oct 2009 @ 1:48pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    Yep - I'll occasionally poke fun at friends about poor spelling and grammar because it really is a painful mental experience having to back up the train and reparse a sentence with the correct words inserted*.

    The occasional error or typo is one thing (e.g. my brain knows how to use apostrophes correctly, but my fingers don't always get it right, so I'm fairly forgiving of such errors, especially in contexts that don't allow editing of posted messages), but allowing endemic errors in published writing is being disrespectful to one's readers.

    However, in such cases, I probably still won't try to correct it - if the problem is bad enough and persistent enough, I'll just stop paying attention to that writer.

    The one time I will post corrections is when someone has made a typo that significantly changes the meaning of what they wrote. In such cases, I have found a simple "s/what they wrote/what I think they meant/?" (or "Was 'written' meant to be 'intended'?" if the writer isn't another programmer) to be both polite and sufficient (i.e. assuming the author just made an accidental typo and seeking clarification rather than assuming they must be a poorly educated idiot and abusing them for it as some grammar nazis do).

    *(A novel I read recently consistently used "insure" instead of "ensure" throughout, and it was a stumbling block every time I came across it. From context, the author definitely meant "ensure", but the error happened so many times that I couldn't see how it could be accidental that the author and editor both missed the mistake).

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