Confessions Of A Reformed Grammar Nazi

Those of you who’ve known me since high school will remember that I used to be the biggest grammar Nazi imaginable. So hell bent on educating the proletariat in the ways of the apostrophe was I, that I wrote a number of Facebook notes on the subject.

You will all be very glad to know that I am now a reformed grammar Nazi. It’s not that I’ve lost my love for the apostrophe or the various spellings of your and there, but rather I have come to realise that not everybody cares quite as much as I do and that not everybody needs to care.

As a result of my rehabilitation into normal society, it pains me to witness others who are still mired in the (rather one sided) debate. Yes, grammar is important and there is no real reason for choosing not to follow it except in texts where money can be saved, but let’s be honest here: everybody makes huge grammatical mistakes in just about every sentence which proceeds from their mouths.

Do we all know how to use a semi colon? No. Do those of us who are wise to its ways make use of the semi colon? No.

Do we all end sentences with prepositions? Yes. Do those of us who are in the minority by knowing that such a thing is wrong still continue to do so? Yes.

Do we all split phrasal verbs up*? Yes. Should we? No.

The only people who have a legitimate reason to be angry or at least slightly frustrated at grammar mishaps are the English teachers who taught us the basic rules in the first place. It’s the same sentiment you’d expect your maths teacher to have if you wrote 1+1=5.

*See what I did there anybody?

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4 thoughts on “Confessions Of A Reformed Grammar Nazi

  1. oh dear oh dear. i’m afraid, as a persistent nazi, i will have to respond to your very interesting recantation.

    some people need to care more than they do. this is for sure. i think that ‘some’ is more than you maybe do. i fear that the lengthy and laborious codification that has occurred to establish a stable form of english will be swept away in a tide of unfortunate youths who – at the very best – will think they “should of learned it more better”.

    now then. you talked about “proceeds from their mouths” and then talked about semi-colons. let’s face it – spoken language is different from (yes, from) written language. speech needs to adapt and is rarely as prepared as written language; neither can it be amended in the same ways. so let’s not talk too much about spoken language (although the standard would be higher if people’s written language were better..!)… let’s talk about written language.

    should we all be able to use the semi-colon as a linguistic tool? yes. do those who know how to do so.. do so? yes. yes we do. see above for an example! i find it very useful, and so would a thousand other commalators if they understood what it did!

    putting prepositions at the end of the sentence… let’s talk about mr dryden… he postulated that, on the model of the highly-regarded latin language, prepositions should find their place before the end of the sentence. in fact he was applying to the wrong language family in using the italic (latin); rather, he should have applied to the germanic. there he would have found your ‘phrasal verbs’ which consist of a preposition prefixed to a verb. ‘abspülen’, for example: ‘to wash up’. ‘ab’ = ‘up’ and ‘spülen’ = ‘wash’ in this context. we could indeed spend our time ‘up-washing’ the dishes. of course we could. but these verbs are very cleverly separable thus: ‘wir spülen die tasse ab’. that is to say, ‘we wash the glass up’… ‘die tasse haben wir abgespült’ being ‘the glasses we have washed up / up-washed’. there is a dynamic flexibility in these verbs and i think people would have much more fun with them if they knew what they were all about. most people, unfortunately, wouldn’t know that the verb and the preposition could or should be put together at all as part of the same verb. education, here, is key.

    (i think the main thrust of my paragraph above is to agree with you that prepositions can be placed at the end of a sentence, but to disagree with you if you think it’s wrong to do so.)

    so the only thing left to say is… that you will notice the phraseology of this comment is quite loose. also, that there are no capitals. furthmore, that most of it is written in a way that i might say it, rather than the way i might write it down if i were writing a textbook… the reason for this is that i recognise the internet as a distinct entity; it lies between speech and writing in that it is both visual and instantaneous. i tend to relax my nazi-ness here, but only insofar as the ‘rules’ are being circumvented for a deliberate and specific purpose. i’d still be disappointed if someone wrote ‘should of’ instead of ‘should have’ because it more than likely highlights not that they have identified the internet as a more flexible forum, but that they really don’t know why to use one rather than the other.

    if attention to detail is key anywhere, it’s key in public, in communication, in relations with others. this extends, naturally, to the things that a carpenter makes for people, to the service provided by a shop assistant… but fundamentally, to that central inter-relational device, language.

    if being a grammar nazi makes me hitler, i’d like to suggest i’m more of a grammar hindu. that might serve to make me gandhi, striving to bring order to a fast-changing entity.

    enjoy :)

  2. I totally agree! and just reffering to your last line, making a grammar mistake is no way near like making an obvious maths mistake because basic maths rules (2+2=4) were not made up by a bunch of crazy 18th centuary grammarians who thought english should be like latin ,as it was supposedly the divine language, and so made rules to make it more like latin and to “preserve” it . i love good grammar, but i heatily agree with you that not everyone does and thats its not something to get too het up about seeing as most ( if not all) of the rules were made by old men who based them on a dead language! xx

  3. this is all a little bit over my head, with all the big words and such. But…i am however, very pleased and surprised to hear these words leave your mouth Andy T!Good job on the letting loose :)

  4. Meight, this is well proper rantin innit. Your definitely write too care less bout gramar coz when were all being casual through speech or blogging its no big deal. People what make mistakes in serious written texts though; should of been learned it much betterer in school for sure.

    That paragraph above, albeit a relatively extreme example, highlights a line crossed in my eyes. I completely agree that it really does no one any good by belittling someone about relatively insignificant errors in their day to day grammar if it manifests itself in speech or casual written language. However, even via these more casual mediums I simply cannot abhor paragraphs such as the one above. I’m not so naive as to suggest that we adhere to centuries old linguistic rules, yet I can’t help but feel that examples such as that are not so much the evolution of a language into modern english, so much as a demonstration of sheer bone idleness and ignorance.

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