Why I’m Not a Grammar Nazi

Here’s the thing: I’m not a Grammar Nazi.

Notice how I didn’t say “I ain’t a Grammar Nazi.” to sort of emphasize my blatant disregard for English grammar and its rules. That’s because I know the difference ‘its’ and ‘it’s’, between ‘your’ and ‘you’re’ and between ‘they’re’, ‘their’ and ‘there’. I know where apostrophes belong and I know where they don’t.

But imagine being greeted by a stupid question that requires an answer ten times its worth, both in quality and quantity at the end of a long, tiring day. And somewhere, in the midst of those characters, sticky keyboard keys, lethargic fingers and the looming threat of AutoCorrect that works only when one doesn’t need it, I might have neglected to put an apostrophe where it should’ve been, thus rendering my ‘it’s’ a mere ‘its’. Go ahead, sue me.

Unforgivable, isn’t it? Of course, apologising and correcting my mistake hardly makes up for anything, at least, in the opinion of the person I was chatting with. He was a good friend, but a cold blooded Grammar Nazi. And he embraced that fact like a medal, which frankly, brought out the worst in him.

I paid the price for my mistake, though. That little niggle triggered an entire conversation, more of a soliloquy, actually about the difference between ‘it’s’ and ‘its’, something that a) I had heard since preschool and knew very well and b) was apparently infinitely more important than my fatigue.

I’m going to say it. Grammar Nazis are, to put it politely, annoying.

Not that I’d ever want to be associated with Nazis of any kind, but I realised I’m often on the giving end of English grammar gyaan. Whether I like it or not, I find myself involuntarily proofreading things on the Internet, often paying more attention to trivial, pedantic details than to the point of substance being conveyed without looking into whether it was a typo or  negligence or worse, intentional. What’s worse is that I actually assume I’m doing the world a favour with these services no one asked for.

I consciously try to avoid being pedantic and singling minor errors out, especially if I understand what the person intends to convey. It’s hard because poor grammar irks me no end and that saturation point is just a misplaced comma away. It takes every inch of me to fight the urge to point out mistakes, but I’m proud to say, I’ve come a long way in suppressing that Grammar Nazi in me, even if it is just a little.

This battle started a long time ago, when I was in Year Two actually. My parents would correct me every time I used poor grammar, misspelt a word or got my diction wrong. My grandmother speaks English very well, considering it isn’t her first language. So back then, she made a minor diction error and I corrected without a hint of hesitation, quite scornfully, actually. Although she took it well, my father immediately took me aside and gave me a lecture on how correcting people at every faux pas was hurtful and annoying. I retorted immediately by saying, “But I was just teaching her, like you teach me”. Dad then explained to me that this pedantic tendency came off as a bid to establish one’s superiority as best he could to a kid in Year Two. He ended with, “If you absolutely must correct someone, do it with utmost courtesy. You may not know it yet, but it matters.”

I don’t know if he remembers this today, but I certainly do. I apologised to my grandma, half heartedly, not fully understanding the truth that lay interspersed with the message I had just been taught until much later.

In my view, when someone who has been speaking a language their entire life AND has had the opportunity  of an education AND the possibility of a typo or a mistake is ruled out, then it is not only acceptable, but desirable to be a Grammar Nazi. Learning a language is never easy, especially to someone who hasn’t been given a shot at as good an education as they would’ve liked. And when people like that have the courage to try their hand at communication in a world where scrutiny, scorn and criticism is just a less than perfectly prounounced vowel away, it’s pretty remarkable. Shooting them down by disparagingly ‘correcting’ them will eventually discourage them from learning.

Another reason I avoid being a pedant is because I speak some Indian languages and I’m no expert. I can communicate well enough to get by, but my spelling, grammar and vocabulary are way below par. I’ve also been learning French for two years, which hasn’t been easy. My diction passes muster, but I need to work on my spelling and my writing. I end up performing unwanted sex change operations on all nouns when it comes to these languages like French and most Indian languages where every noun has a gender. I admit, I find my teachers a little pedantic when my test scores plummet for minor errors. English is quite a difficult language to learn, more so when it isn’t one’s first language. A point to be noted is that poor grammar does not mean low intelligence and vice versa. This is why I’ve learnt to respect anyone making an attempt to learn new languages. Grammar Nazism is not cool here.

I know ”lete speak’ or ‘chat’ language seems like the least classy way to go about it, but inventing new words and abbreviation is how language evolves. Shakespeare himself invented words; ‘awesome’ and ‘madcap’ are a couple of them. The Bard also made verbs out of nouns to adapt to his rhyme and meter without hesitation, something that is looked down upon by today’s Grammar Nazis. I cringe at the idea of #hashtags being synonymous with 21st Century literature, but “We’ve always done it this way,” is the worst excuse for sticking to your roots. One thing I can say with absolute conviction is that petty details and punctilios takes away from the fun, the beauty and the pleasure we seek in language.

I think Stephen Fry perfectly encapsulates what I intend to convey through this video.

 

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One thought on “Why I’m Not a Grammar Nazi

  1. Pingback: Grammar tenses | Thinking Languages!

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