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The Grammar Nazis’ Conspiracy

Back in 2005, I wrote a message in Hebrew to the Hamakor discussions, noting that illegal copying of software, as undesirable as it may be, is not "stealing" or "theft". I signed my message "(The Semantics Nazi)" (in English).

Someone was offended, and after a brief discussion decided to publish this article on the front page of linmagazine.co.il (=an Israeli Linux news, blogs and forums site). The discussion is very amusing. Someone asked "What does it have to do with anything? Did Hitler use Linux?". Another one has misapplied Psalms 34, there, while I had to correct him. In any case, I haven't stopped calling myself and others "nazis".

Now it seems that Millie is a "Grammar nazi" and proud of it:

Ozy and Millie: "Grammar Nazi"

Since I am often correcting people's grammar, syntax, etc. (mostly in Hebrew), I also consider myself a Grammar nazi. So I've decided to form a conspiracy of:

  1. Spelling nazis
  2. Grammar nazis
  3. Syntax nazis
  4. Punctuation nazis
  5. Idiomatic talk nazis
  6. Semantics nazis
  7. Netiquette nazis
  8. Applied logic nazis (e.g: logical fallacies)

And may all "Anti-'nazi' nazis" be damned!

Here's for a better, clearer, and more correct human-to-human communication (in all languages). Note that I always appreciate reports on errors in my own text, which is especially problematic in English.


( 21 comments — Leave a comment )
Jun. 4th, 2008 11:14 am (UTC)
I too:
1. Belong to your *-Nazi list.
2. Tend to use the "Nazi" term freely.
3. Appreciate reports on errors in my own text...

Nevertheless, I do believe that what other people find offensive is absolutely their responsibility (and problem), not mine.

I can choose to believe their sincerity, or not (some people just say they are offended but are actually just lying to get attention, to sound important, whatever).

I can _try_ to convince them that they don't have to be offended, or not (some people just doesn't listen. Some just have a different POV than mine and that's fine).

I can choose whether I want to avoid actions that offend them, or not (the fact that someone is offended does not always say I have to care. It's just a per-incident consideration).

I don't think that the _fact_ that a person is offended is affected by the "rightness" (aka: accordance to my POV) of his reasons. He could be wrong and still be offended.

I may choose to avoid saying things I don't think right but I also may (ok, you got me there, it's a rare choice for me) avoid it just to not offend, regardless of right-or-wrong.

Oct. 9th, 2008 04:12 pm (UTC)
I do NOT use taglines. NO. It's MY keyboard. Get AWAY. Get your OWN. NO. NO. Don't touch the plot contrivance switch.
Oct. 17th, 2008 03:15 am (UTC)
Don't touch the plot contrivance switch. NO. Taco Bell is NOT the Mexican Phone Company. NO. You cannot call .
Jun. 4th, 2008 12:11 pm (UTC)
An anti-nazi nazi?
Shlomi, your insistance of this use of the word "Nazi" is stupid. When you use a word, you need to be aware of its connotations. You seem to assume that the only connotation people have when they here the word "Nazi" is of someone pedantic, unrelentless, and uncompromizing. Really???? Why??? In reality, when I here the word "Nazi" the connotations I (and most other people) have are - murder, genocide, suffering, atrocities, gas chambers, starving people looking like skeletons etc.

So when you say "Spelling Nazi", I don't hear a "pendantic speller who never stops to correct people" - I hear "A murderer whose hobby is spelling". And I'm not the only person who hears this - most people here it this way. Is this what you want me to hear?

You mentioned the "Soup Nazi" episode of Seinfeld. I believe that unfortunately this episode is what sparked the popularity of this word in that sense. But to me, it still doesn't make any sense.

Nadav Har'El.
Jun. 4th, 2008 08:08 pm (UTC)
Re: An anti-nazi nazi?
You mentioned the "Soup Nazi" episode of Seinfeld. I believe that unfortunately this episode is what sparked the popularity of this word in that sense. But to me, it still doesn't make any sense.

Actually, as far as I know, "nazi" for a pedantic person was used a long time before the Soup Nazi episode. However, the Soup Nazi episode made it a big phenomenon.

In regards to the connotations - these are not my connotations, and not those of most of the people I care about. For example, about 10-20% of the web surfers are using Firefox, but webmasters often care about them more. Likewise, people I tend to care about don't have such connotations and if the other people were offended, then they probably would not agree with me if I didn't use it. That is depsite the fact that the cronotoations of most American people (and many other English speaker) is probably not to associate "nazi" (with a lowercase "n" mind) with the actions of the German National-Socialistic party. I've also been safely using this term in this context in speaking in Hebrew with Israelis.

So your insistance on preaching that I should not use the word nazi to describe someone who is stubborn and unnecessarily strict is stupid. ;-)
Jun. 6th, 2008 07:07 pm (UTC)
Re: An anti-nazi nazi?
Another note, in the case of Sesame Street, "monster" means an adorable furry creature, such as Herry Monster, Grover or Cookie Monster. However, in Die Hard 3, the villain says "No I didn't - I'm not a monster. But some of the people I work for are monsters". So monsters can mean several things, just like "nazi".
Jun. 8th, 2008 08:13 am (UTC)
Re: An anti-nazi nazi?
Shlomi, do you actually believe what you're writing?

Imagine that someone told you "Shlomi, you're a monster!". Would you talk that as meaning that you're adorable and furry? Of course not! While some words do have slang meanings, metaphorical meanings, and so on, they usually have a strong dictionary definition which you cannot just ignore. A "monster" is usually a bad thing, so if you don't want to offend someone, don't call him or her a monster - because he's more likely to be offended than amused. When a person hears the name "cookie monster" for the first time, he's likely to assume that he's something bad (of course, that assumption is overruled after you watch a few minutes of Sesame Street).

Shlomi, you're a Complete Idiot.

Oh, I hope I didn't offend you! I didn't mean anything bad! A Complete Idiot is someone who loves to read on a variety of subjects, not just the subject he's a professional at. Here, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Complete_Idiot's_Guide_to...

Nadav Har'El
Jun. 8th, 2008 09:21 am (UTC)
Re: An anti-nazi nazi?

Well, if someone said I was a "programming monster" (or in Hebrew "חיה של תכנות"), meaning that I was very good at it, I wouldn't take it as an insult. But I suppose you're right - in everyday meaning - "monster" is bad. I also don't mind people calling me a "nazi" of something.

Similarly, "girl" essentially means "a female child", but it also came to mean "a female guy". I don't intend to stop using "girl" just because some Feminazis consider it offensive. That's how I think and how I communicate, and how most people do. I think that the gender-neutral re-engineering of the English language is a hateful idea, and won't help to further the cause of women liberation.

To quote Richard P. Feynman, "What do you care what other people think?". Grow up! "nazi" has come to mean something different than just a member of the National-Socialistic Party, and it's perfectly natural. "Vandalism", "Gothic", etc. also mean something more innocent.

Jun. 4th, 2008 12:37 pm (UTC)
By the way, the English word you're looking for is probably "Zealot". It's the English (or orginally, greek ;-)) version of the Hebrew word "קנאי".
Jun. 4th, 2008 08:09 pm (UTC)
Re: Zealot
I'm sorry, but "nazi" is not exactly the same as "zealot".
Jun. 4th, 2008 01:17 pm (UTC)
Although I'm definitely not trying to tell you that your understanding of this word is wrong (because it's not) there are different meanings to many words.

See for example this definition from http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=nazi :

--- start quote ---
5. nazi
love it 433 up, 301 down hate it

Another term for someone who is overly controlling and is rude about it. Originated with the Soup Nazi on seinfeld
-dude she wouldnt give me any free pizza
-dude what a food nazi

-dude my coach says i have to run like 5 miles
-dude what a track nazi

you get it
--- end quote ---

I'm not claiming the above definition is "better" than your definition.
Just that it's not that far fetched and a lot of people (myself included) understand Nazi (when used in specific contexts) as a reference to the Soup Nazi, not to the National Socialist Party.

As I've stated in my previous comment, I'm not claiming it's ok for me to use this word even if you find it offensive just because I think my definition of it is valid.
But if I choose to avoid using this word it won't be because my definition is bad or stupid but because I don't want you to get offended (and you have the right to be offended by whatever you feel you should be offended by).

Jun. 4th, 2008 07:55 pm (UTC)
Great comments, thanks.
Hi all!

Replying to my own post, I'd like to note that I didn't expect to receive so many comments on such a silly post. But they seem very nice so far, so thanks.
Jun. 4th, 2008 09:11 pm (UTC)
As many already said ,
The use of "Nazi" has other meanings than you think.
Perhaps you don't really realize that (and afaik you're no sympathizer of them).
But even the use of this phrase makes fun of the Holocaust casualties and all other WW2 victims.
Here is an example would you accept the use of the words " Hamas / Pathah / Hizbola / Black September member " as a description for a political activist.
Would you use this term to describe Gandi (Mahatma not Rehbam ) ?
Why ?

The use of this term makes fun and make people forget what was it ("zilot ha shoa" ) .
What I can't really understand is why it's illegal to use it in Europe or USA but it is ok in Israel .

Please use another phrase to describe such things
Jun. 4th, 2008 10:13 pm (UTC)
Extremist activist groups used as adjectives
Oh, really.

This may come as a surprise to some people here, but in the American-dominated West's common concepts, the word "nazi" is (as Shlomi contends) closer to what we in Israel think when we hear the term "Prussian Officer". Shlomi, when writing in English, just chooses to engage this world on its own terms. As the Holocaust was not central to the relationship between the Nazis and the West, you can't expect everyone to make that association first -- when I say "Ottoman", does genocide even occur to you? What would you think of Armenians who are offended that, e.g. HaMakor (Israeli F/OSS association) is officially an "Ottoman association" (a technical term in Israeli law)?

And as to your other points:
1) Through the late 80's and early 90's, when Israeli soldiers were continually suffering attacks from Hizbolla in Lebanon, the term "Shi'ite suicider" (מתאבד שיעי) was pretty common in Israel to describe either extreme recklessness or extreme dedication to a goal.

2) The term "nazi" is not illegal in any western country. Where did you get this idea?

Jun. 5th, 2008 06:53 am (UTC)
Re: Extremist activist groups used as adjectives
Hi Shai!

You hit the nail right on the spot, thanks.

Regards -- Shlomi Fish.
Jun. 4th, 2008 10:50 pm (UTC)
Hi Shlomi,

As my comment above indicates, I have no problems with the term "grammar nazi". I do have a problem with the concept -- especially when applied to Hebrew. Actually, two problems.

The first one has to do with descriptive vs. prescriptive grammar: Descriptivists like myself believe that the reason to write down rules of grammar is to describe the language, to investigate and research it; prescriptivists like you believe the reason is to normalize and unite it (I will make the snide remark that I do see a shade of fascism in this point of view).

The other is not a matter of opinion, but of fact: Hebrew grammar nazis -- you, personally, included -- tend to make grammar "corrections" according to rules which are nothing but style recommendations by some authors, *not* recognized as rules by the Hebrew Language Academy (whose authority I dispute, but you accept). As an example, see http://www.whatsup.org.il/index.php?name=PNphpBB2&file=viewtopic&t=15782#97719

Jun. 5th, 2008 02:55 pm (UTC)
Grammar correction
In the spirit of correcting people, please change the following sentence in your entry:

Someone asks "What does it have to do with anything? Did Hitler use Linux?"


Someone asked "What does it have to do with anything? Did Hitler use Linux?"

(should be past tense...)

Jun. 5th, 2008 04:51 pm (UTC)
Re: Grammar correction
Corrected, thanks. Gotta practice what you preach. Though according to Jennifer Slegg (and to common sense), sometimes mis-spelling or weird phrasing yield a lot of traffic because people find them on search engines.

But I don't think that was the case here.


-- Shlomi Fish
Feb. 1st, 2009 03:02 am (UTC)
Re: Grammar correction
Regardless of grammer, the statement ""you have the right to be offended" is it. Thats your right. It ends there. you have the right to be offended, but I have the right to say what I like. You may disagree, but you do not have the right to silence me. Argue, yes. Disagree, yes. But prohibit, no.
Jun. 27th, 2009 01:00 pm (UTC)
Two comments
You, Shlomi, and those commenting here, are touching on some very big issues -- political correctness, the functions/purposes of language instruction and dictionaries, and more. This is not a silly conversation....

You mention at one point that you want to be corrected when you make a mistake. That's the attitude of someone who takes learning seriously, as you obviously do -- your English is excellent and I wish I could say my second and third languages were half as good. I admire you.

Please remember that "problematic" does not mean "full of problems." Everyone uses it that way, of course. It means "doubtful," in the sense that we say a diagnosis of viral infection is problematic. That means the infection might not be viral -- it could be bacterial. You might enjoy this website: http://mysite.du.edu/~jcalvert/humor/words.htm.

A word about dictionaries, if I may. Some are chronicles of usage, and some are references. When you want to know what people actually say, you want a dictionary that lists a lot of incorrect usage. When you want to find out what is the right way to say something, you need a reference. Most people think all dictionaries will give them good advice, but that's not true. You have to be careful when you buy a dictionary -- check what its purpose is, and be sure it matches your need.

Finally, I insist that ignorance is not to be urged on anyone. It is better to know how to read, and how to write. You can't just make it up as you go along, forcing words to mean what you want them to. If you could, you could walk into a store and say, "Stick 'em up, you fool!" and then, on being arrested, tell the police that you meant, "Give me two chocolate bars, Sir." There is no advantage to incorrect speech, written or spoken, and precision in usage promotes effective communication.

Good luck to you!

--Based on the preview, it looks as if my comment will be a total mess when posted -- Sorry!
Oct. 16th, 2009 08:17 am (UTC)
Re: Two comments

Hi Anonymous! Don't know if you can read this reply, unless you check this page periodically. Next time you may wish to open a free-of-charge LJ account, or login using OpenID (with many providers such as LJ, Google, and you can even set your own on your own URL with some hackery of your web-site (not "crackery", mind!).

In any case, I cannot see the parent comment when I do the preview, so I'm opening it in a new tab. As a result, I apologise if I misinterpret your reply. (If that's the word).

First of all, your comment is great and you are mostly right on the mark. I seem to have missed it when it posted originally due to either an E-mail or a mind SNAFU. Sorry about that.

This is indeed a serious discussion, despite the fact that the original post by me contained several jokes, and that I may have not taken this discussion lightly. Now that I think of it, I am reminded of Wittgenstein's comment that "A serious and good philosophical work could be written consisting entirely of jokes.".

In any case, I'm going for a walk now, so I'll try to address the other points in your comment on a later date (Real Soon Now&tm;). But I should note that it seems to make a lot of sense to me, and I mostly or completely agree with it.

( 21 comments — Leave a comment )

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