Why I hate Grammar Nazis

Blog, On language

The other day someone tagged me in one of those awful Grammar Nazi posts on Facebook. You know the kind I mean – a meme about the stupidity of people who don’t know their there’s from their theirs or some such.

I was highly offended. Because contrary to popular belief, an editor or a proofreader does not a Grammar Nazi make.

These pedants come in many guises – there’s the person who gleefully (and self-righteously) spots a typo in the restaurant menu or those who respond to your messages and Facebook posts by pointing out your incorrect use of who versus whom or too versus to.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the English language with all its nuances and exceptions to the rules and I get great satisfaction from helping publishers polish their copy, but that is precisely why I can’t bear Grammar Nazis.

So why as an editor do I not count myself among them? Because English is alive and always changing. What was supposedly an incorrect use of the language two decades ago may be perfectly passable now. As Harvard linguist Steven Pinker wrote in his book, The Sense of Style: “The rules of Standard English are not legislated by a tribunal of lexicographers but emerge as an implicit consensus within a virtual community of writers, readers, and editors.” 

So not only are Grammar Nazis highly annoying, but they’re often blatantly wrong. Their devotion to unchanging grammar and spelling is misplaced in a language like English, which is constantly changing.

And finally, there’s another thing about these pedants that really gets my goat. They’re downright arrogant – a word that comes from the Latin verb arrogare meaning to claim for oneself – which is not an option with something like the English language. No one person is its custodian, not even the world’s best lexicographers, as Pinker says. It’s a language in flux which belongs to us all.  

Written by Melissa Fagan, freelance non-fiction editor

I help non-fiction publishers deliver award-winning content using a creative and flawless approach to editing. Internationally qualified non-fiction editor with 11 years’ publishing experience.

Email me: melissa.fagan@mfedit.com


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