Sorry Grammar Nazis, You’re Doing It Wrong

I see it in all the reading groups:

Arguments about how to use words. What’s proper? Who should we damn for using the wrong spelling? Or is that ‘whom should we damn’?

Have you EVER read a book and said, ‘God DAMN that book had good grammar'”

Have you ever read a book and remarked on how well the person did at spelling?

NO! You know why? Because those things aren’t content. It’s stories that matter, not spelling and grammar. Historically speaking, those things have never mattered because inflicting a tight structure on language takes away from the voice of the author.

I’m not saying that you shouldn’t put work into editing afterwards, spelling isn’t too difficult and badly misspelled words tend to jolt people out of the story, especially if it’s something that goes through the entire manuscript. Grammar and making up words to express yourself are two things that are supposed to be flexible. Grammar is something that was inflicted on language to make cadences clear. Using it as a straight jacked for your story makes stories sound rigid and conformist. It’s a sign of mental illness to find constant fault with others and to need everything to be precisely lined up and ordered.

negative people 1

This detracts from the entire concept that should be burning you when you write: Your Passion. That is what should matter. Did you use a word in an unconventional way? Did you use the wrong word?

passionate to a fault

Using a word in an unconventional way is fine if it’s part of your voice. If you just plain old used the wrong word as a mistake or because you didn’t know the actual meaning of the word then you might want to work on that. On the other hand, we are always learning and there is never going to be a time when you stand up, survey the work you’ve done and say, “There, I’ve learned everything there is to know about the English language”. If that’s your goal and if that’s the standard you hold other writers too then you are hurting yourself and hurting the ambition and passion of other writers.

If your feedback to an impassioned anything is ‘you said council when you should have said counsel’ and that’s all you have to say then you are cutting the author of the piece down. You have contributed nothing constructive and have cut the legs out of the author while ignoring their entire point. If you talk to the author and have a conversation about their writing and then mention that, ‘oh, by the way, I noticed you used the wrong ‘counsel’ in the third paragraph, that’s a different story. When you’re only feedback is,’ ummm, I think there should be a comma in this sentence.’. Then you know what? You’ve missed the point of writing.

Grammar and spelling structure should be a tool that helps you to express yourself. If it ceases to be a tool and becomes a constriction on your passion or the passion of others, then it’s time to put it aside. Deal with it later. The important thing is what you’re saying. If you are clearly showing through whatever language or grammar you choose to use what you want to say then grammar and made up or creative word usage ceases to be important.

This whole business of there being absolute ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ ways to write it a clever way to get lost in a maze of confusion and self doubt. If you inflict that on other writers then you are sowing seeds of confusion and insecurity in other authors. This makes you a negative influence on other writers. This makes you someone to avoid.

negative troll

If someone is only interested in how many faults they can find and has nothing to say about the words and emotion in your writing, then they are only interested in tearing down other writers and making themselves feel important. If someone is so threatened by a piece that they read that they can only point out one error in a piece that is pages long and have nothing to say about the content: Tell them where to shove their judgements.

If Shakespeare was around he would go off his nut listening to the crap these grammar nazi’s spew. I can tell you that he would probably have given up on writing and gone out and got drunk because what is the point of Shakespeare without his awesome voice.

Go ahead: Put a Shakespeare play into proper grammar. Don’t use any of the words that he made up to express himself. You know what you have? A boring piece of crap.

happy birthday shakespeare

So, Grammar Nazi’s, I’ve got to tell you, you’re doing it wrong. You’re stifling and if someone is creative but speaking with a legitimate voice then you need to respect that. Keep your insecurities to yourself and try looking at what the person has written. Try finding the good in it because spelling and grammar are easily fixed if they aren’t an expression of that person’s voice. If they are part of that person’s voice then dictating their voice and what it should sound like is a tyranny power trip and you’re in the wrong.

Who gave you right to be the rule keeper of all the other writers? Ask yourself how petty you’re being in fixating on a tiny thing like a comma or one misused word. How small can you possibly be? How much do these tendencies cause you to stumble in your own writing? Maybe you should grow up and be a bigger person because there are ways to help people with their writing without picking their grammar apart.

edgar alan poe

How much of your negativity and nit-picking are actually fear of what other people are saying? How much of it is guilt that your own word count isn’t higher? Are you insecure and can’t handle their passion? Is what they are saying making you afraid? Are you disassociating from the spirit of the words by obeying and enforcing the letter of the grammar law? When has being dogmatic ever worked for creative professions? When I see a grammar nazi I see fear. I see that you are afraid of listening to the words of anyone else. I see someone with an obsessive compulsive need to put people down, to put yourself down. Your dogmatism is a dam to hold back the flood of passion you feel. It is a dam to hold back the passions of other from touching you. What are you so afraid of?

Whatever it is, being a grammar nazi is a shield, it’s a place to hide from others. A place of defense where you can throw rocks down on anyone trying to climb the mountain of creation. You are afraid of something. When you compulsively must pick out every mistake the flaw is in you. You’re doing it wrong.




8 thoughts on “Sorry Grammar Nazis, You’re Doing It Wrong”

  1. Well written post. And I see part of your point. Some people are like this, so I agree with you, in part. Grammar/spelling shouldn’t be such a focus that the person critiquing the piece is so blind as to not see the forest for the trees. And in fact, the larger context/content/story is a much higher priority than grammar/spelling. But I also kind of disagree with you.

    I don’t see myself as a “grammar Nazi,” and despite my education on the subject of grammar, I make my own share of mistakes. I certainly don’t know everything about the subject, not even close. Your point about that is clear, and I certainly don’t disagree with it. Even English teachers don’t always get it right all the time. Plus, there are far too many rules for anyone to be expected to get all grammar and spelling perfectly correct all the time.

    There’s also something to be said about knowing the rules but disobeying them on purpose to make a point and/or give the writing more punch. There’s nothing wrong with that. Even in academic essays.

    But I do tend to get aggravated about grammar/spelling mistakes, particularly when they’re easy ones that can be easily corrected by simply looking it up. The common sense ones are a sticking point for me too; in fact, they’re worse. The “your/you’re” example comes to mind. In fact, that one’s common sense for anyone with a higher than elementary school education. “To/two/too” is a common sense one too. Easy mistakes to make. But easily corrected too.

    My personal philosophy regarding this tends to be that grammar/spelling is one of the last things (if not the last thing) authors really need to worry about in their manuscripts. That’s because, as you pointed out, content, voice, plot holes, etc. are much more important.

    But it needs to be done, if for no other reason than to not give an editor/agent an excuse to say no. Because that’s the biggest problem, assuming said author wants to get published. Editors/agents don’t expect absolute perfection, and published novels do escape with one or two grammatical mistakes sometimes. But all of us should do our absolute best to make it as grammatically correct as possible. Because, as you probably know, if a manuscript isn’t as grammatically polished to as near to perfection as an author can make it (leaving room for purposeful mistakes and mistakes that aren’t easily corrected), an agent/editor will reject it.

    One more point concerning your Shakespeare argument. You might be right. But there’s something else to be considered about that: he was writing under different spelling/grammar rules than those that exist today. He was also writing in 16th and 17th century England.

    As for made-up words, that’s just a creative license that we can all take, depending on what we’re trying to accomplish. I guess I’m not really so much disagreeing as I am making some points I think you might be overlooking. Sorry about the essay; I still need practice being a more pithy writer.


    1. Hi Becky,
      Thank you for your well considered response. I agree that knowing the rules is important. It’s like they tell artists: you can only paint like Picasso when you know how to do all the forms properly.
      I also agree, as I did in my blog, that it is necessary, if anything because errors, especially large errors can jerk us out of the story or doubt the competency of the story teller. One thing that I’ve learned however, is that people really do use grammar and spelling as a way to dismiss viewpoints all together. I see this in particular in comments on Facebook where if someone makes a reply or a comment that someone disagrees with they will point out an error rather than discussing what they are opposed to.
      It’s become the internet equivalent of sticking our fingers in our ears and saying ‘is not, is not, is not’. This is where I start to feel that it becomes actual grammar ‘Nazism’. I also agree that there is a point to editing. Goodness knows that I’ve seen an error in a work that has already been published and it’s made me want to gather all the books together and get a re-do on them! Publishing a work and sending it in to a publisher is a much different process and I agree, you do have to have a certain amount of conformity if you’re going to do so.
      I’ve also learned that Grammar Nazis are prone to fads in writing. They will get hung up on things like whether or not the Oxford Comma was used or not. IF adverbs are good or bad this week. I’ve read dozens of papers instructing new writers on the many ways that they’re doing it wrong and all those ways seem to come down to: You aren’t conforming enough to the current trends. The latest one I saw of these was the ‘was’ spider. Every use of the word was is circled and connected to the other ‘wases’ and if you form a spider out of your words or more than eight legs then you are a bad writer.
      This is where I get to the point of saying, ‘Who decided you get to make up these rules?’
      As far as Shakespeare goes, yes, he was writing for a different audience but people haven’t changed much except that they have become more rigid and vocabularies have dropped considerably (there’s another random rule I’ve read, never use words over two syllables or you’ll sound pretentious). The point with bringing Shakespeare into things is that his audience was in it for the fun, not to be critics. I think finding your own voice is what matters and that everyone is different. Some people have large vocabularies and can use long words appropriately, other people are clearly riding high on their Thesaurus and sound like prats.
      All in all, I think we are largely in agreement. Content editing is the first thing that needs to be considered and line editing the last. Pointing out flaws in someone’s comment on Facebook is something that bothers me because many people haven’t had access to the same education as others and are from different levels of society or speak English as a second language. Some people have disabilities. None of these things should be counted against their general opinion and social commentary and should be given equal weight to someone who is well-spoken. There are frequently times after having been run over and suffering a concussion that I will make errors in my spelling or do something that I know is wrong, especially if I’m tired. Thankfully I seem to largely have understanding friends and if I look at my comments the next day, do a face-palm when I see I used the wrong ‘their’ when I damn well know which ‘their’ to use. I generally can fix my boo-boo the next day when my head feels better, if my friends pounced on me every time I made a mistake like that I wouldn’t feel comfortable using my social network. Often it’s a times like that when I really need a friend to chat with and not have a friend or stranger pounce on me about it.
      Now I’ve gone and rambled your ear off! It was nice chatting with you and again, thank you for the well thought out comment!


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