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[The Angry Grammarian] Grammar Nazis

Do you owe someone an apology?

Jeffrey Barg

Though I was aghast that someone I thought was a dear friend joined the Facebook group “Students for the Preservation of the Oxford Comma” this week, it was generally a good week for Facebook wordage, as a lively debate sparked up on the “Good Grammar Is Hot” group on the difference between being a grammar Nazi (as we’re so often called) and merely a grammar jerk. It’s hard to be really angry about incorrect grammar with people who are trying really hard to speak English well, but who struggle with it because it’s not their first language.

I couldn’t agree more. Just as Nazism was a form of fascism, grammar Nazism is grammar fascism, and we grammar jerks should kick against the grammar Nazis just as much as we struggle with the grammatically stupid.

Do you get all huffy when people end sentences with prepositions? Do you object to the usage of perfectly sensical words just because they don’t appear in Webster’s (like, for example, “sensical”)? Do you correct people’s selection of which vs. that in conversation? You might be a grammar Nazi.

Are you unable to read something without copy-editing it? Do you want to take a gigantic paintbrush to street signs and movie billboards (kiss my ass, original hyphen-less posters for The 40-Year-Old Virgin)? You’re probably a grammar jerk. (Welcome.)

Do the words “preposition,” “hyphen” and “copy-editing” mean nothing to you? Are you not reading this column because you saw it was called the Angry Grammarian? You might be grammatically stupid. And that’s okay—we’re here to help. Don’t worry—the fascists are bound to lose. Just ask Ken Burns.

Which is the correct term to use these days: Latino or Hispanic?

Speaking of people working hard to get English right.

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, whose tolerance.org website includes a fantastic glossary on what language labels carry what connotations, “Latino” (and its feminine “Latina”) describes people of Latin-American origin. “Hispanic” is more broad, encompassing anyone of Spanish-American heritage, including Spain and Mexico.

Whether you’re a grammar Nazi or a grammar jerk, you’ve probably gotten it wrong before and owe someone an apology.

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