Grammar

‘Care’ With Words Should Go Both Ways

I received an interesting comment to my post about a self-proclaimed “grammar nazi” who either completely missed the point of a blogger’s post or completely ignored it just to complain about a typo.

The commenter seems to have either completely missed the point of my post or completely ignored it to complain about the use of the word nazi. 

Here’s the comment in its entirety:

“As a Jew I think its disgusting how the term ‘Nazi’ is thrown around like it is today. My great grandparents died at Auschwitz; my family will never forget what the Nazis did to our people. Be careful when you use terminology like this…”

While I answered the comment where it was left, I think it’s very important that some points be made here.

First, I neither coined the term “grammar nazi” nor originated its use in the conversation of which I wrote. It was the term being used by others, and as it is a commonly-used phrase that portrays someone with an oppressive attitude towards people who fail at grammatical writing, I went with it.

Second, and much more importantly, it wasn’t my intention to in any way belittle the suffering of anyone in the Holocaust, or that of the survivors left behind.

I’m not Jewish, but I really don’t have to be Jewish to understand that there is a certain sensitivity to that term because of Hitler’s Third Reich. To younger generations, for whom the passage of time has lessened the atrocities of the Nazi regime, a term like “grammar nazi” has a completely different connotation.

But that’s the way it is for every horror in the history of the human race: today’s children weren’t around on (or were too young to remember anything about) September 11, 2001; that date will never resonate with them the way it does with us.

I’m fascinated by old news footage from the Kennedy assassination on November 22, 1963, because you see men and women crying in the streets over a president’s death. It’s hard to imagine events today (though 9/11 was a rare example) affecting that many people that universally. I wasn’t born, yet, on that dark day in Dallas, so no matter how much footage I watch, what happened on that day and the impact of it will never resonate for me the way it did to them.

But back to the nazi issue. For the benefit of those who don’t know their history all that well, it’s important to note that six million people or more — most of them Jews, but also Romani people, Poles, Slavs, Soviet POWs, Jehovah’s Witnesses, homosexuals, the mentally or physically disabled and members of political and religious opposition were killed. The majority of the deaths came in various camps like Auschwitz, Buchenwald, Dachau, Belzec and many others. Some were shot to death, others were herded into gas chambers. Still others became slave labor and in some cases suffered unimaginably in medical experiments.

So let me be clear: I apologize for being unclear enough in my post that anyone could honestly believe that I was making any effort to trivialize the atrocities of the Third Reich when I referred to over-zealous grammarians as “grammar nazis.”

But with my apology, there must come a moment of frankness: the commenter’s parting shot, an admonition that I should be careful when I use terminology like this, offends me.

When I wrote the piece, I believed the context of the piece as a whole would have ruled out any doubt about my intentions with the use of the term I quoted from a conversation between others. It wasn’t that I didn’t take other views of that word into consideration, but rather that I just couldn’t — and still can’t — imagine that anyone with any amount of reason could trivialize such a thing. I wouldn’t know where to begin.

I’m fine with an alternative term to “grammar nazi” for future use. As I already pointed out, I pulled the term from a conversation other people were having; I was never married to it to begin with. If “blogging police” doesn’t offend anyone, then we can go with that hereafter.

But I can’t help but feel that if it’s reasonable to suggest to me that I should be careful when I use a word like nazi, it’s reasonable to suggest that the reader should be careful when he encounters it: context ought to count for something!

Otherwise, you’re casting everyone in the role of the worse person you can imagine, and I don’t think that’s fair to your common man.

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4 Comments

  1. Right or wrong, the term “nazi” added to something – like “grammar nazi” or “soup nazi” – has become a common way to refer to someone who behaves like a dictator in some way.  I don’t think that it trivializes the horrible things that Hitler did at all.  There is no way one could alter the horrible things that went on during his regime by using that term in a different way today, after all.

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  2. I get the point completely of not trivializing what that horrible dictator and his regime did to so many innocents.  It was a horror beyond comprehension.  That said, I’m not sure why you are apologizing for referring to someone by the name they assigned to themselves.  We all know what the person meant (grammar police would have been the better choice for sure), but you REPORTED what the person referred to themselves as…you didn’t assign the name.
     
    In a sense, aren’t you apologizing for someone else’s issue?

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  3. I get the point completely of not trivializing what that horrible dictator and his regime did to so many innocents.  It was a horror beyond comprehension.  That said, I’m not sure why you are apologizing for referring to someone by the name they assigned to themselves.  We all know what the person meant (grammar police would have been the better choice for sure), but you REPORTED what the person referred to themselves as…you didn’t assign the name.
     
    In a sense, aren’t you apologizing for someone else’s issue?

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  4. I think that when people use the word nazi to describe something, that it trivializes the monstrosities that Hitler did.
     
    What about using “grammar police” instead.

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Comments are closed.

Patrick is a Christian with more than 29 years experience in professional writing, producing and marketing. His professional background also includes social media, reporting for broadcast television and the web, directing, videography and photography. He enjoys getting to know people over coffee and spending time with his dog.