“The greater part of the world’s troubles are due to questions of grammar.”
Michel de Montaigne
Grammar is a powerful thing. It is so important to the internet that hoards of crusaders patrol it every day, monitoring for and punishing grammatical transgressions. Bryan Henderson has achieved hero status with some, and villain status with others, for his efforts at cleaning up Wikipedia’s language. Friend or foe, he’s influential and others are following his lead. And when Weird Al joins in then it becomes a cause.
Life’s not easy for a Grammar Nazi. For one thing, they are always running afoul of Muphry’s Law. Also, people hate you and call you a Nazi. When you’re not looking, they even make fun of you, putting your delicate sensibilities at risk.
The essential problem is that while Grammar Nazis may be correct in the source of their condemnation, they are nonetheless wrong. Grammar changes over time, and intentionally so. Each generation develops their own flair to distinguish themselves from their parents. The official rules of grammar right now haven’t always been what they are, and won’t always be what they are. In the end, most of them are nothing more than aesthetic choices with no right or wrong.
It is a lot of fun to play with them, though. You can amuse yourself endlessly by presenting intermediate-level Grammar Nazis with the following list and asking them to correct the grammar.
- One morning I shot an elephant in my pajamas. How he got into my pajamas I’ll never know.
- The horse raced past the barn fell.
- The complex houses married and single soldiers and their families.
- The rat the cat the dog chased killed ate the malt.
- Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo.
It’s amusing because all of those sentences are already grammatically correct.
But this grammar war holds deeper meaning that it appears. Some are calling it a modern moral panic. Others suspect Grammar Nazis of being actual fascists. One thing seems clear: this is another instance of humans defaulting to tribalism.
Still, even if you think the grammar war is stupid and everyone should just speak in the way that they find best expresses their thoughts, some caution is called for. Grammar’s power is to be respected in all realms, even the criminal. It can point the cops your direction, and it can save your hide in court.