Was Grammar A Member of The Nazi Party?

I’ve been running a writing consultation service through my blog for a while now, and I’ve notice a common pattern among my clients:  a great resistance, distrust, and distaste towards learning English grammar.

At first I thought this was an isolated incident, but as I saw the trend keep popping up, I realized that I had run into a real issue here.

As I thought more about it, I realized that I was exactly like my clients not too long ago:  I hated grammar. Grammar confused me and intimidated me. The more grammar rules that were taught to me, the more I felt like my true voice was being strangled out of existence.

But once I reached college, I learned not only to trust the rules of grammar, but I mastered them enough to know when and how to break them. Today, instead of strangling my true writing voice, my ability to utilize the English language correctly has actually amplified it.

Was Grammar A Member of The Nazi Party?

I don’t blame my clients for disliking grammar.

They’ve been raised in a culture where select groups of people take it upon themselves to shame others for their bad grammar—you know them as the so-called “Grammar Nazis.”

“Grammar Nazis” often forget that sometimes even some of the most important grammar rules can—and should—be broken.

The Grammar Nazis also fail to realize that, in many ways, they are privileged. Not everyone is taught English grammar and structure correctly. Not all of us had the best teachers available to teach us the rules and to teach us why learning these rules was so vital to our future.

Unfavorable Circumstances and Their Influence On Grammar

Those who criticize people with terrible grammar skills should ask themselves the following questions:

What if the person who struggles with grammar had a bad teacher who never taught them what they were supposed to know? Or, what if the person struggling with grammar had a good teacher who just didn’t teach grammar in a way that the person responded to? Or what if the person had a great teacher, who taught them in a way he or she could respond to, but due to some extraneous circumstance (a disease, a financial hardship, or a family tragedy) this person had great difficulty focusing on the lesson?

There are far too many factors that can get in the way of a writer’s ability to become great, so can we blame the person who struggles with grammar for all of their shortcomings?

How many great writers transformative ideas and revolutionary thoughts are muffled today because no one taught these writers how to use a semicolon properly? Now THAT is the shame: that there are people out there who have been convinced that English grammar is their enemy, when nothing could be further from the truth.

A Different Way To Teach English

I wonder if instead of shaming those who use bad grammar, we focus on their strengths and encourage them to improve? I wonder if we can look at their mistakes with understanding, and then see the great potential for their greatness underneath their initial shortcomings? I wonder if this approach might lead people who resist grammar rules to one day embrace and love grammar?

Many of us know that when you learn English and master it, it is your best friend. When you master English, a dash becomes a knife that can slash at the gut of injustice; a period becomes a bullet you can use to puncture the head of inequality; and a comma becomes a sling that can launch a stone into the very eye of evil.

English is more than a tool—it is a weapon.

A pen isn’t just mightier than a sword—it is might itself.

Why Grammar Was Really A Member of The Allied Powers

The truth is that Grammar is not, nor ever has been, a member of The Nazi Party.

Grammar is simply a tool that allows you to communicate your thoughts, ideas, and beliefs clearly, concisely, and effectively.

Grammar is literally about trying to be UNDERSTOOD.

But some have been wrongly led to believe that grammar is meant to restrict you, shackle you, bore you, annoy you, frustrate you and confound you to no end. But what you may not know is that when grammar is done right, it commands respect, it commands attention, it moves people to tears, it moves them to action, and it moves them to hope and inspiration.

That’s when grammar is at its best:  when it gets out of the way of itself and becomes so visible that it sinks into the page and disappears completely. At the shore of your fingertips, excellent grammar calls the ship of your ideas home, like a lighthouse at the darkest hour of night.

But how can something that does so much good in the world have earned such a bad reputation?

Maybe The Grammar Nazis, whose intentions were to elevate the level of language in society, did more damage than good in shaming those who broke the rules?

Maybe those who had one or two bad grammar teachers were made to feel so inadequate and so full of shame that they never looked for a teacher who could finally transform their hate of English grammar into love?

In order to change grammar’s bad reputation, The Grammar Nazis must be more lenient the next time they point out a grammar blunder. In order to change grammar’s bad reputation, those who hate grammar must be open to giving grammar one more chance.

In the end, we must all work together to help debunk the myth that grammar had any part in starting WWII. If anything, Grammar was a member of the Allied Powers and has yet to be given “The Medal of Literary Freedom” for the bravery it has shown fighting in between the margins.

much love,

Ollin

Have you been convinced that grammar was a member of The Nazi Party? Please share your grammar horror stories with us below.

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17 comments on “Was Grammar A Member of The Nazi Party?

  1. I can’t ever say I thought grammar was evil. I struggle with it. Reading rules and explanations tends to go over my head, but I’m well aware of that and know I need help and seek it. Plus, when I do and see in my own writing my mistakes, I learn better.
    If anything, I use the term grammar nazi as a tease and am more impressed that the person knows the rules.

  2. guest says:

    I know that in the US “Nazi” is used for anything but I would like to point out, having actually learned the history of the 2WW and the Nazi time in Germany, that this title is a bit offensive. Do you actually know what the Nazi party did? how inhumane and cruel they were? remember 6 billion people killed and that’s without the soldiers? People dying for speaking up? I would love to see a bit more discretion when using the term Nazi (one of those terms that cannot be misunderstood and has no dual meaning)

    • Ollin says:

      One of the reasons I used the term in this post was to show the absurdity of using the term Nazi in reference to grammar. The title, I hope, really reveals that absurdity. Because I agree with you, we should not use this term lightly, especially not to denote people who correct others grammar. It’s just absurd.

  3. This is indeed quite a powerful post. I love grammar and find it helpful through life, but I must confess that at times I can be a bit of a Grammar Nazi. I am so embarrassed to confess this to you. In light of this confession, I must ask the following question: Did you leave a couple of grammatical errors in your post just to please those like me? I did find two errors worthy of inflicting the smack-down on you. Thank you! I feel like part of the superior race now.

    To help you sleep tonight, here they are:
    Grammar Nazi’s (should be plural)
    to help the debunk (should be to debunk)

    To help you feel better I will tell you that recently I sent a carefully composed letter to an editor and later found a gross grammatical error in it. Life is hard.

    • Ollin says:

      Haha, Bonnie. Thanks. My readers know that I have a “grammar tick” and that is that I often will write a singular as plural. I have done this with the word “writers” many times by writing “writer’s” instead. I know that it is wrong, but its an old habit that won’t quit and I forget to double check that in my documents. As for the second mistake, that is a typo, and typos happen.🙂

  4. Frederick Fuller says:

    I taught grammar for 20 years to high school pupils. Teaching grammar is akin to getting a kid to eat sand. More sugar will not help. I don’t know if I succeeded is getting it across, but I do know several of my kids made it through English comp classes in college. It’s a tough subject to teach, and to learn.

  5. Christina says:

    I think a huge part of the problem would be solved if people didn’t shame those who made mistakes. It creates the opposite of a good learning environment.

    Love your metaphors here:))

  6. Liane says:

    As a writer and former English teacher, I heartily agree with you!

  7. […] Was Grammar A Member of The Nazi Party? Published: September 12, 2011 Source: Courage 2 Create I’ve been running a writing consultation service through my blog for a while now, and I’ve notice a common pattern among my clients: a great resistance, distrust, and distaste towards learning English gra… […]

  8. nancy says:

    I am a grammar Nazi married to a grammar Nazi, so you can imagine our stimulating dinner conversation. Yet try as I might to be tolerant and understanding of others, once I reveal my life as a former English teacher, conversation stops. Everyone suddenly needs to rush back to the bar for another drink.

    The nightmare: I paid an editor $1,200 to look at my novel. I told her that I was a grammarian and asked her to only look at the big picture, story structure stuff. “Tell me if I even have a story,” I said. Her response was a critique of my grammar and usage–the confusion of bring vs. take, the splitting of compound words, the omission one or two quotation marks. Urg! I wanted my money back.

    What I learned was that the rules of Warriner’s Grammar have changed in modern publishing. No matter how much you know, someone will tell you that you are using the wrong rules.

    But I still don’t know if I have a story. And that was the only reason I was willing to part with $1,200. Writing a novel is getting (starting? becoming?) to be almost as expensive as golf and as frustrating.

    • Ollin says:

      Fascinating story, Nancy. Seemed like the tables were turned, eh? I think we should just focus on what the original intention of grammar was–clear and concise communication. If we do this, I think we’ll all be a lot more happier and a lot less grumpy about the nuts and bolts of the English language.

  9. 83October says:

    What a wonderful post. I had no choice, I had to learn grammar as English isn’t my native tongue. It was difficult learning grammar as the tendency for none native speaker is to make literal translations, but I never saw it as a Nazi. I think it had to do with the fact that I knew as a none native speaker (or writer) that i needed to be understood. If i made grave mistakes in grammar then I wouldn’t be able to communicate properly. But i think its the attitude we put towards learning grammar. I remember my teacher taking the time to explain to me subject verb agreement. There wasn’t any shaming. He simply let me write my paragraphs, edited them and reminded me of the rules. I’m not the best in grammar, but learning it in a more supportive environment helped me appreciate it.

    great post Ollin!

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