Why I Dislike the Term “Grammar Nazi”

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)


  1. 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?

    • 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.

      • Erin F. rdopping Hmmmm….my wife’s family kept the 2nd n. They are Grossmann. Everyone gets it wrong. I was poking fun but at the same time it is kinda crappy to use those references. I feel bad even though I had nothing to do with it.

  2. 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.

    • 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? 

  3. 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. 

  4. 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.

  5. It is not only inappropriate but a little hurtful too

    • 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.

  6. 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.

    • 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?

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

    • 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.

  8. 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. http://www.unlearn.com Again, thanks for the post! It’s a great reminder 🙂

    • 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. GeoffReiner We will make you an honourary Canadian once you start spelling correctly. 

        • RebeccaTodd GeoffReiner Too late. kdillabough already named me an honourary Canuck. At some point, I’m to draw a badge that will be dispensed to all honourary Canucks. 🙂

        • 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 :pThoughts? I’m sure Kaarina is on board! 

        • GeoffReiner Erin F. RebeccaTodd kdillabough Like a support group for them! 

        • Erin F. RebeccaTodd GeoffReiner kdillabough We need to create that badge:)

        • GeoffReiner Erin F. RebeccaTodd kdillabough And yes! I’m on board:)

        • KDillabough I know, but you have to finish your secret project first. 🙂 Besides, I have a lot – A LOT – of drawing to do this month. RebeccaTodd GeoffReiner

  9. 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.

  10. @Donna W Thank you for your kind words.
    Twenty years – wow. Are you an independent editor?

  11. noodlemaz says:

    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.

  12. noodlemaz Agreed.

  13. lilangus says:

    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?
    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

  14. 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.

  15. LeslieTriceratops says:

    I have to admit that I find it funny that in a post eschewing one offensive phrase, you use ‘obsessive-compulsive’ to describe fastidiousness.
    Obsessive compulsive disorder really can suck. It often manifests itself in repetitive and time consuming rituals that the person feels like they have to complete in order to ensure that something bad doesn’t happen to them or their loved ones.
    The prevalent use of it to describe attention to detail undermines the lived experiences of people with OCD. Instead of understanding it as a nuanced thing, bosses, friends, coworkers just expect people with OCD to be very clean and tidy, and don’t understand or believe that the disorder can seriously disrupt your life.
    (I realize this isn’t something a lot of people think about, which is why I’m bringing it up. I’m not trying to be snarky or shitty.)

  16. LeslieTriceratops I agree with you. It’s a descriptor I’m trying to eschew from my vocabulary.
    This post is two years old. I’ve grown quite a bit since then. I still won’t use the term “grammar Nazi.” I hope I’m being more prudent about the obsessive-compulsive one.

  17. This is a pretty dumb post. In short: yes, you are way too sensitive, and you are actually extremely overreacting. The world should not, and will not, adapt to your overreactions.

    And had you only a little of internet culture, you’d understand that the “Nazi” part of the expression is not meant to insult people, but to show how dedicated those people are to what they love.

    I am aware a large portion of our western culture is trying to create a way of thinking in which you should be allowed to blame anyone as long as you decide that you were hurt by something. But there’s a limit to be drawn, and it might be just that: stop trying to find excuses to be offended. Being offended is not an argument.


  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 […]