Carl: Homer, if it weren't for you, we'd be at the mercy of weekend philatelists.
Lenny: You know, why didn't you just say stamp collectors?
Carl: 'Cause I'm tired of dumbing myself down for you.
The Simpsons - The Little Girl Who Slept Too Little
While planning an event in a recent Facebook message thread a friend of mine excused himself by writing "Sorry guys n gals Im in leed's"[sic]. Those of you who aren't illiterate should be groaning right now. Naturally I could not let the incredible stupidity of this apostrophe misuse slide (though I did let him off the "n", because sometimes three letter words are too much effort even for the best of us), and I pointed it out to him. For this I was called a Grammar Nazi.
Don't worry, this isn't going to be a long complaint about someone calling me names. And it's not going to be a thousand word exploration of the phrase "sticks and stones". The intent - though misplaced, and we'll come to that in a later post - doesn't bother me in that way, mostly because it's exactly the sort of response I was aiming for. I'm not going to pretend that I spent the rest of the message thread pointing out his grammatical mistakes and telling him that he should stop being wrong because I was trying to teach him a lesson or because I deeply cared about his mastery of the English Language. I was doing it because I knew it was annoying him and I knew he'd keep rising to it and, well, it was too funny to not do it.
But I'd like to look at the phrase "Grammar Nazi". A term that - to the best of my knowledge - originated on the internet* and has been picked up by web users to become a commonplace term for anyone who takes it upon themselves to point out spelling and grammar errors made by other people. The earliest definition on Urban Dictionary - as reliable a place as any for web-based phrases - comes from November 2002 and describes the Grammar Nazi as "someone who is addicted to the correct usage of the English language...". Since that time there have been thirty-one more definitions added to the term, because Urban Dictionary is ridiculous. Not one of those definitions explain what the word "Nazi" is doing there. There is no etymological information to let us know when "Nazi" became synonymous with "addicted to the correct usage of...". It is objectively a meaningless phrase and this is where my issue lies.
This is not an unusual case. As a society we adopt the language and terms of our peers, picking up colloquialisms and accents along the way. Now that the internet has increased the range of people we interact with every day by an incredible degree, terms and phrases such as this are picked up by more people at a quicker rate than ever before. Soon they become part of the daily lexicon of people who have never considered what they're actually saying. And phrases like "Grammar Nazi" become commonplace.
It shouldn't be unusual to consider the meanings behind these things. It shouldn't have to be pointed out to someone that a term they use on a daily basis doesn't actually make sense. And it especially shouldn't be common practice for someone to ignore the literal meaning of what they say and continue to use it in the same nonsensical way, regardless. The internet gives us new words and phrases every day. It's time to start thinking about them before using them.
Why is someone who corrects grammar a "Nazi"? Why is a night out "cheeky"? Why the person responsible for something you approve of a "lad"? Why is "fail" now a noun? And why, why, why does a picture or description of your dinner have to be followed with "omnomnom"**?
This is the age of parrots. And it will continue until we learn to think about what we're saying.
In Part 2 I look at the way the age of parrots has affected our creative endeavours online, from original works to viral videos to memes.
*Feel free to let me know if I'm wrong about this. It would be interesting to see if the term was in use before the internet.
**This is something that especially needs to die. Mostly because of the image it conjures of the person who wrote it opening their mouth as wide as possible between chews as they spray their greasy, mushy food all over the table while inviting you to stare down their throat at whatever stayed in being digested in their swollen, flabby stomachs. Just...stop it.