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
    Dark Helmet (profile), 29 Oct 2009 @ 1:50pm

    Re: Grammar Snobs

    "Grammar rules are 'descriptive', NOT 'prescriptive'."

    Absolutely correct, but that's EXACTLY the point us "snobs" are making. Complex thought can only be described through complex language, and for everyone to be able to understand the meaning of complex language, common practices and rules must be followed, thus grammar and syntax. All kinds of minor inflections, stressors, etc. can be lost with minor errors in grammar, and for complex thought this can go a long way towards killing the meaning behind the thought. Proper grammar may in certain instances aid in describing.

    "If the meaning is clear, then you have accomplished your aim"

    Fair enough, but it should be stressed that the aim is to have the EXACT meaning of the expression be entirely clear. Language is one case where good enough is NEVER good enough.

    "As long as message sent = message received, you have been successful."

    Yes, but again, in the interest of true understanding of one another, it has to be as exact as we can get. Good enough doesn't cut it with language.

    "Grammar snobs are, well - snobs."

    No, we just happen to believe that when it comes to universal practices such as language, there is a right way to do things and a wrong way, with all the benefits and detriments that such distinctions entail.

    Plus we're better than you.

    And I am SOOOO cereal....

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