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Post-Brunch Intelligencer

Midmorning ramblings on the state of the species

Defending the Grammar Nazi

Posted by Nath at 8:07 PM
I had been meaning to continue along the lines of my previous post – I haven't quite finished beating the subject of morality to death – but that will have to wait. Partly because of this post, I have decided instead to bring up something else I've been meaning to write about.

We have all, at some point, been, known and/or attempted to strangle a grammar nazi. Grammar nazis can be found in classrooms, Internet forums (sorry, fora) and bookstores. They are widely – and correctly – regarded as annoying; how does it matter whether it was John who went to the market, or John whom went to the market? I'll let my good friend Augustus explain this one:
Rerum gestarum divi Augusti, quibus orbem terrarum imperio populi Romani subiecit, et impensarum quas in rem publicam populumque Romanum fecit, incisarum in duabus aheneis pilis, quae sunt Romae positae, exemplar subiectum.
Excuse me? You don't understand Classical Latin, you say? That quote is the first paragraph of Res Gestae Divi Avgvsti. I haven't a clue what it means. That's my point.

An immeasurable amount of human thought has been wasted simply because languages have been twisted and distorted over time. Languages have a tendency to branch, morph and splinter. The problem isn't really that we lose information from this process – most surviving (interesting) literature has been translated at some point. However, text can convey a great deal more than its literal meaning. It's often next to impossible to translate connotations, rhythm or wordplay (unless your name is Anthea Bell). You can read complete translations of the Mahabharata or the Iliad, but that's analogous to having the plot of Citizen Kane revealed to you by a Powerpoint presentation. It gets all the information across, true, but it's just not the same.

Of course, a certain amount of linguistic entropy is inevitable. Some figures of speech simply don't hold up well against the passage of time. Despite what Mr. Spock would have you believe, I doubt the phrase "Only Nixon could go to China" will still be in popular use in 2293. Metaphor-rot is inevitable. It is also inevitable (and fortunate) that new expressions will arise to describe concepts that did not exist or were not talked about in the past.

My problem is with the unnecessary dilution of the meaning of existing words. That's where grammar nazis come in. Take Patrick Fitzgerald and Amber Rhea, who claim that "misuse of the word 'literally' gets [their] blood boiling (no, not literally)". Or consider Prof. Paul Brians, who maintains a list of common abuses of the English language (including my personal arch nemesis, "different than"). Perhaps their efforts will defer the 'best-by' date of today's literature by a decade or two.

Oh, and yes, I am aware of the fact that the word 'nazi' as used in the expression 'grammar nazi' has nothing to do with the Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei. No, that isn't what 'irony' means.


Posted by Blogger Raindrop at 24 August, 2006 21:05:
I was just reading this yesterday.

The line between dialect and plain bad English is a very thin one.

I have a Minnesotan friend who says things like 'ya' and 'oof da'. I defend his right to say 'nookyoler', but I still think George Bush is an idiot for saying it.

Posted by Blogger Raindrop at 01 September, 2006 02:47:
So I have questions. Some tough ones.

This TNPCares person. Who is he/she? What does he/she care about? And most importantly, WHY does he/she care about the thing that he/she cares about?

Posted by Blogger Nath at 01 September, 2006 04:49:
Those are tough questions. I've directed TNPCares to this post; he/she might be able to give you better answers than I (assuming he/she hasn't been eaten by a grue).

If not, this kind of covers it.

Posted by Blogger Raindrop at 01 September, 2006 22:04:
Okay. Now I have some MORE tough questions. What is TNP?

I'm pretty sure it isn't Television Nacional del Peru, Tibetan Nuns Project, Triglavski Nardodni Park or Teague, Nall and Perkins.

I want answers and I want them now.

Posted by Blogger Nath at 03 September, 2006 20:38:
Oh, all right, I'll tell you.

'TNP' stands for Ta-GHAK!

(Darn poisoned darts...)


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