Why I Dislike the Term “Grammar Nazi”

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Grammar NaziI am not a fan of the term “grammar Nazi.” I refuse to use it in reference to myself or others. The term may be meant as a jest, but I’m not sure that it is. It smarts just a little too much. Even if it is a jest, it’s not a flattering one. I know I joke about wielding a red pen, but such jokes are meant in good fun. No one gets hurt when I say I wield a red pen. While I am serious about writing better and encouraging others to write better, I’m equally serious about poking fun at my own obsessive-compulsive behavior when it comes to finding the right word or punctuation mark.

Thus, when I am called a grammar Nazi, it hurts. It grieves me because the word “Nazi” is not one I use lightly. I don’t care that World War Two was over fifty years ago. The word is still not a nice word. I can’t bring myself to use it or see it in a joking manner. Some words simply shouldn’t be.

Maybe I’m too sensitive about the term. Fair enough. I am sensitive about it. I’m sensitive about it because grammar Nazis are people who uphold the letter of the grammar law at the expense of the spirit of it and of the people trying to write. That is not me; at least, I hope it isn’t. My Write Right posts are meant to encourage not to discourage. They are supposed to provide illumination about a particular rule. They address words or punctuation marks that some readers ask me to explain. They are not a gun held to a person’s head. They are not a boot kicking a writer into a mass grave.

I guess all I’m asking is that people think twice before using the term grammar Nazi. Maybe some editors and writing coaches do act cruelly or inhumanely. That is not an excuse to refer to them as grammar Nazis. That is an opportunity to extend grace to another human being and to find a different editor or writing coach, one who understands what it is to be human, what it is to fail and try again.

Photo: Brett Jordan (CC BY 2.0)

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Erin Feldman

Erin Feldman is the director of editorial services at Tenacity5 Media and the founder of Write Right. She's a copywriter, editor, poet, and artist. You can find Erin on .

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30 comments
lilangus
lilangus

It may be annoying, at best, but in no way is it as offensive as you feel it is. It's not like the other "n" word. That word was meant to describe ignorance in a particular race, singling out a particular group of people and belittling them. The word "Nazi" was meant to describe a person of a particular political stance...."Nazism." Nazism is basically "National Socialism." One word describes a political stance and the other word points out ignorance in a race. Technically, the term "Grammar Nazi" doesn't even make any sense.

I see this as just one more thing to get too uptight about. Some people are way too whiny about way too many pointless things. It's just one more thing to b**** about. I've used the term in the past, and see nothing offensive about it. Maybe you could argue, "I'm not a Nazi, so the term doesn't describe me", but doesn't mean it's actually offensive. Yes, Nazis were evil, and I guess that's where the offense comes from, but I still wouldn't be offended by a word. It's just a word created by man to describe a meaning/object/thought. This is all words are. They are only offensive if a person makes them offensive.


I guess, what I'm trying to say is, why waste your time on a blog/post about how offended you are by a word?


The term "Grammar Nazi" isn't even funny, either. It's just a descriptive term, in my eyes. lol I don't laugh when I read/hear it. I can agree, however, that "grammar police" would be better, but then you may have some whiny cop griping at how it's belittling him. 0_O

noodlemaz
noodlemaz

Yes, I am trying to gently discourage people from saying this wherever I see it now. It's become increasingly distasteful and I think we'd be far better off without it.

Donna W
Donna W

Erin, This is a great post and I thank you very much for bringing this subject to light. I am an editor of 20 years and I strongly dislike the term as well. It is politically incorrect, especially in this day and age of treading lightly on any term that is remotely racist (think Washington Redskins). I find the term Grammar Nazi is offensive to all people of both German and Jewish descent. 

GeoffReiner
GeoffReiner

Hey Erin,

Great post! This certainly brings to the surface a very serious issue about understanding the history of words and understanding that some words may seem harmless but to others are very hurtful. In a past life, I spoke to university students about creating inclusive communities. The entire experience opened my eyes to a world that was never consciously aware of. I used inappropriate words/phrases all the time without thinking about their root, or who I was offending. 

If you have some time, check out this site. The company is trying to provoke thought to inspire change. They inspired me to create workshops to help people understand inclusivity. www.unlearn.com 

Again, thanks for the post! It's a great reminder :)

RebeccaTodd
RebeccaTodd

Agreed. I know the whole Soup Nazi thing made it "acceptable" but really, I am not in to it. 

Joshua Wilner/A Writer Writes
Joshua Wilner/A Writer Writes

Well the Nazis and my family don't have the best relationship so I try not to use the term unless I really mean it. However I admit to having slipped it in to conversation. probably because of the Soup Nazi episode on Seinfeld. That made me laugh and kind of loosened me up, maybe more than it should have.

bdorman264
bdorman264

Oops; talk about inserting one's foot in mouth, huh? I should have read the post before I tried to be so cute, huh? 

Certain things are probably never appropriate, no matter how much in 'jest' they are being said.

I apologize for my insensitivity in an effort to be funny; I'll pay better attention next time. 

garrystafford
garrystafford

Yeeeouch: "They are not a boot kicking a writer into a mass grave." 

Guilty as charged. I've used this term to describe myself in a deprecating way especially when I think that the recipient of my corrections may not take them, oh let's say ... so well. Perhaps I should keep my mouth shut!

I appreciate posts like this. It helps me to objectively assess my actions. I recall a post by Jeff, Stop Using the Word Retard. I was similarly affected. 

Thank you, Erin, for holding this role as a writer in higher esteem.

rdopping
rdopping

Wow Erin. Now THERE's a touchy subject. Good for you girl. 

Just so the air is clear I am second generation German and as a kid i was called every name under the book. I lived in a blue collar town in Canada where there was little tolerance for the little German boy. Anyway, the term Nazi holds negative connotations as it always will. It leaves a bad taste in the mouths of many Germans who really don't like being painted with THAT particular brush.

Anyway, Germans are known for their cold precision and rigidity and for most fierce intelligence. So, what to do? You could tell someone not to be such a German about their editing and get a confused look. It won't have the same punch as Grammer Nazi. Dammit. It just works. Whattya do?

TheJackB
TheJackB

@lilangus  This is one of the dumbest, most obnoxious responses I have ever read. 


No one elected you Minister of Feelings. You don't get to decide what is offensive for someone else and what isn't.


Hell I am offended that you didn't cut to the chase because you could have saved us time by just writing:


I guess, what I'm trying to say is, why waste your time on a blog/post about how offended you are by a word?


You might feel differently about Nazis if large numbers of your family had been murdered by them but to you it is just something that happened long ago, right. If you can decide how others feel I guess we can decide how you do too.

Latest blog post: The Jerry Seinfeld Blog Post

Erin F.
Erin F. moderator

@GeoffReiner I think we're all guilty of using inappropriate words or phrases, especially in the heat of the moment. I aim to speak edifying words to people, but I fail more often than I succeed.

Also, another Canadian? It's no wonder people have begun to think I'm Canadian. I know far too many of you, and I continue to steal Canadian words and phrases. :)

Erin F.
Erin F. moderator

@RebeccaTodd It's odd how things can become acceptable even when they shouldn't be. I suppose that's part of the reason many people do urge that we remember the Holocaust. We can become numb to certain words and events if we stop remembering them.

Erin F.
Erin F. moderator

@thejoshuawilner I'm certain we've all laughed at an inappropriate joke. We're human, right? I can't remember the context in the Seinfeld episode, but I don't recall anyone getting hurt unless it hurt someone who was watching the show.

It's difficult not to use the expression when it has become a part of common speech. I don't have a solution at the ready. What are your thoughts?

Erin F.
Erin F. moderator

@Hajra  It is hurtful. I'm not sure who would think the term is funny or a good way to describe an editor. Some editors might be unduly harsh. Other editors simply are viewed as harsh because they have high standards or push a writer to write better.

Erin F.
Erin F. moderator

@timbo1973 I can be opinionated at times, at least on paper.

I thought I'd get some flack with this piece, but everyone seems to agree so far.

Erin F.
Erin F. moderator

@bdorman264 Oh, Bill, don't worry about it. I accept your apology even if it isn't necessary.

Erin F.
Erin F. moderator

@garrystafford I look at it this way - yes, you can shred someone's work, but if you're doing it with the intention of helping that work to be what it could be and to help the writer grow, you're not being a "grammar Nazi." You shouldn't have to apologize for being tough, either. The recipient chose to work with you or is answerable to you, right? 

Erin F.
Erin F. moderator

@rdopping Ha! I don't know. I'm sure some editors take pride in being called a grammar Nazi. I don't think the harsh editors even would care if they were called a grammar Nazi. I doubt that it would have any impact on them. They would probably reply "This is the way I am. Deal with it."

Your history is much more personal than mine. My dad's family is German, but I think his ancestors emigrated long ago. The only interesting fact I know is that the last name used to have two "n's," but one of them was dropped when the family came to the States. World War Two has always been one era that I enjoy studying, despite the darkness of it. Many of my favorite poets and authors are from the era.

Yes, it is a touchy subject. I debated publishing anything about it, but I decided it might be time to tackle a tougher subject.

GeoffReiner
GeoffReiner

@Erin F. @RebeccaTodd @GeoffReiner @kdillabough LOL that's great. I'm okay with being the honourary (sp?) member in training. Or maybe us Canucks should start a Canadian support network for all them American folk that should really be living north of the border :p

Thoughts? I'm sure Kaarina is on board! 

Erin F.
Erin F. moderator

@rdopping Perhaps we should stop name-calling altogether?

I guess I knew you were poking fun. I went all serious on you.

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  1. […] with today’s post. Some may accuse me of being a grammar Nazi. My reply: read this post about why I dislike the term “grammar Nazi.” Now I may continue with my […]

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