Friday, September 22, 2017

I am a Recovering Grammar Nazi

'Grammar Nazi' is probably the most apt comparison of a benign, daily mentality and the horrific events that happened in 1930’s Germany. Nazism, a political party known for its desire to purge the world of so-called impurities defined by shallow and arbitrary attributes, wanted to prove the superiority of its members, not through action of good deeds and impressive accomplishments, but through religious upbringing, skin color, hair color, and other traits that were often easily determined by sight or documentation. If the failing was not immediately obvious, they would make it so with actual visualizations to help the “good” members of society not have to think.

On the one side, learning grammar, spelling, and punctuation grants the “speaker” better control over being understood. Even if he is not a writer, the nuances of language are powerful. Even if he isn’t worried about reputation or being “professional,” (superficial reasons to prioritize these things), actively practicing the differences between two words empowers those words.

I do believe checking for typos is important, especially when it comes to publishing.

But, despite being one of those people who will notice and be distracted by stupid little mistakes (except in my own writing obviously), I have long forsworn being a Grammar Nazi. Or rather, believe it has a time and place.

People don’t attack me for typos often. Less than they should, in fact. Every once in a while, I’ll get a polite message informing me of a mistake. Sometimes, unfortunately, they’ll try to be funny, which is when they’re at their rudest. But for the most part, people leave me alone about them.

Until, that is, certain subjects come up.

Every so often I imply in a blog that I would like people to point out my mistakes. (Which is true. It takes a village to find a typo.) For a few days after, I’ll get a splurge of “corrections.” These are not always actually correct, however, and on many occasions, it’s not the issue of proper grammar as much as it is a preference, or worse, hearsay.

Ending a sentence in a preposition has been a debunked grammar rule. It has been proven to never officially be part of the English language for a long time, but the internet has only picked up on it recently.

For those of you who haven’t heard, ending a sentence in a preposition, “What’s that for?” or “What did you step on?” or even “Wake up!” is a Latin grammar rule that a particular Grammar Nazi in the 1800s wanted to make into an English rule. His propaganda campaign worked and convinced people that it was improper.

But not only does not ending a sentence in a preposition sound strange and often lend to more distracting and not necessarily clearer wording, the fact is that it’s not a grammar rule. It just isn’t. So why is it I’ll get messages on a Facebook status saying I can’t say, “I can’t put my notebook down?”

Maybe because the post was about writing.

The only times I get grammar comments on my Facebook statuses are when I write about writing. Makes sense, doesn’t it? I mean, we should hold writers to higher standards, shouldn’t we?

Except that it’s not comments like I’m misusing “you’re,” it’s comments like, “You ended your sentence in a preposition!” or “How dare you use an Oxford comma!”

(Putting a comma before the conjunction in a list is called the Oxford comma, and it is correct either to put it in or not. “Jeremy, Susie, and I walked to the park. Zombies, monsters and penguins attacked us.”)

A fellow writer used a great example to suggest that using the comma or not can help cadence. Unfortunately, I can’t find the quote, but it did convince me (a previously pro-Oxfordian) that it should be chosen based on how you want the sentence to sound.

Even though both are accepted by all grammar experts, you will still have people complain one way or the other. I’ve once even witnessed a certain gentleman bitch at one girl for not using them to then, months later, complain to another when she did.

Why? Because Grammar Nazism isn’t always about maintaining the purity of the language, it’s often about proving superiority in the easiest method.

“Look how much I know the grammar rules!”

Grammar rules are the only black and white thing about creative writing. You can’t demonstrate to me you’re an expert in the field with just a few sentences. I mean, I know we claim that Hemingway could with his six word, “For sale. Baby shoes. Never worn,” but you’ll find when you give pieces of the masters’ writing to a blind audience, the lack of a reputation gives an influx of opinions on the prose. Which is to say, studies show that readers (or, in one specific case, music listeners) who don’t have any background information on an author and aren’t given ratings on what other people think tend to differ much more drastically on what is “good,” where those who are informed of what other people think tend to clump together.

Most “great” writers are polarizing, with people who love them or hate them. Many cases you have to give something a second (or third or fifth) chance before you realize just how deep/touching it is. I’ve hated most of my favorite shows before I was forced to get into them by friends and family.

And even if a writer was able to write like a god it very well might be that he couldn't just do it off the top of his head in a response to a Facebook status. We probably don’t even know exactly what made our writing so great, so we can't demonstrate the ability with abstract writing tips.

So I, a frustrated writer attempting to prove my knowledge, pull out a writing rule, whichever writing rule I can get my hands on at the time, even if I don’t actually agree with it.

The unfortunate thing is that, because it is motivated by a superficial superiority, Grammar Nazis will try and perpetuate grammar rules that are either untrue or just unhelpful. Instead of encouraging writing to be better, we attempt to discredit the speaker.

Just because a Grammar Nazi is strict doesn’t mean he knows what he’s talking about. Recently, a friend of mine said, “John’s coming over to visit you and me,” then corrected himself. “John and I.” I told him, supportively, he was right the first time. You put the other person first because it’s polite, but you use “I” when it’s the subject, me when it’s the object. (When in question, take out the other person and see what sounds right. “John is coming over to visit me,” not “John is coming over to visit I.”)

Considering himself a grammar expert, he was flustered and a little pissed off, even though I thought (albeit dumbly) I was telling him he was right. This is the same guy who tried to correct me on a part of speech (I was saying something was an adjective, he said it was a verb), and then called me a Grammar Nazi when I told him he was wrong.

Grammar Nazism is rarely about proper grammar as much as it is about proving yourself.

When it comes to an argument, I find that many people focus on proving the other person wrong, rather than proving their concept right. In high school, two of the biggest know-it-alls in class were in a fight whether or not all art is propaganda. The girl snatched up a dictionary and read what propaganda actually meant, which, if it did anything, only showed that he was using the word wrong (exaggerating, I would say), but didn’t disprove his belief that all art has an agenda.

Trying to prove that someone’s an idiot by claiming they used the wrong form of “you’re” is akin to calling someone fat. Yes, you did the trick in pissing them off, but it was obvious you were going for the easy target, and really, is it relevant to the issue at hand?

It is because of these things that several years ago, I decided to control my emotions better. I hated getting so irritated by petty things, and I didn’t exactly like looking like a know-it-all. From my own experience, having someone correct me on my grammar didn’t make me feel like they knew what they were talking about, but rather were obsessed with proving it.

Not everyone should forsake the sacred duty of being a Grammar Nazi. It does actually encourage and teach people to write better, especially on social media. But personally, until someone asks me to specifically do their copy editing, I, for the most part, struggle to leave it alone. Unless you’re hitting on me, then all bets are off.

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