Friday, September 23, 2011

Grammar Nazis of the 21st Century: A Proposal

A Grammar Nazi, in case you didn't know, is someone who constantly corrects (sometimes erroneously) other people's grammar and usage. In the blogosphere, the Grammar Nazi is a special breed of troll who pounces on the merest errors, typos, oversights, and brain farts and calls them out, often in the harshest way, in the comments.

And rather often, the "errors" that these Grammar Nazis point out aren't even mistakes, like in this post, when someone objected to my use of "none sound right" instead of "none sounds right." (In this case, I actually knew the guy who posted it, so I didn't skewer him publicly. He'll make a better friend than an enemy.)

The worst Grammar Nazis use these "mistakes" as jumping-off points for ad hominem attacks on the blogger's character and intelligence.

Why do they do this? Possibly to puff up their own sense of superiority. Grammar Nazis must have horrible self-esteem; if you're publicly calling someone retarded for accidentally typing thier, you can't feel too good about yourself.

But I don't want to talk about what Grammar Nazis do so much as I want to talk about the term Grammar Nazi itself. You see, I have a little problem — two, actually — with the term Grammar Nazi, and I think we should replace it. Here's why:

First, Grammar Nazis (especially online) don't focus solely on grammar. They pounce on anything they see as a writing mistake: typos, "could care less," redundancies, even botched HTML entities. So the Grammar part of Grammar Nazi isn't entirely accurate. In fact, just putting the word grammar in there gives these thugs more authority than they deserve.

Second, Nazis haven't been much of a nuisance — much less a threat — in decades. Calling a person a Nazi doesn't have the gravitas that it did, say, fifty years ago. (Which is exactly why people today can use Grammar Nazi without apologizing to every Jewish person they know.)

Plus, by calling a person a Grammar Nazi, you risk losing your argument by way of Godwin's Law.

So I think an update is in order. We need a new word that really puts these impertinent, self-important fustilarians into a proper, modern perspective. Here's what I think they should be called:


Errorist, a portmanteau of error + terrorist, is better choice because errorists have more in common with terrorists than with Nazis, for example:
  • An errorist often blows himself up (metaphorically) in the process of errorizing.
  • Errorists don't go away if you ignore them, but they get worse if you give them too much attention.
  • Errorists work opportunistically, waiting for you to let your editorial guard down so they can strike.
  • Errorists always think they're right, even when history, logic, and the figureheads of the institution they're purporting to defend say they're wrong.
  • Errorists, like terrorists, should be hunted down and . . . maybe I won't go that far, but they certainly aren't making the world a better, happier place.
Errorist has the added benefit of being more intuitively inflected than Grammar Nazi: errorize, errorism, erroristically.

I'm not the first person to think of the word errorist; the Urban Dictionary already has a number of proposed definitions for it, though for the most part they seem to ignore the portmanteau aspect. My proposal to replace Grammar Nazi with errorist appears to be a novel one.

What do you think?

(Muphry's Law states that there must be some editorial error in the preceding blog post. We'll see which errorist finds it first.)