Be a grammar monk, not a grammar nazi
Updated: Mar 22
It’s a lazy summer afternoon in 2012 and I’m hanging out with a friend. Yellow flowers are gracing the street as we walk aimlessly. We have nothing to do and nowhere to rush to. I feel relaxed and blissful. Suddenly he asks, ‘What comes after Tuesday?’
I blink at him and cock my head to the right and laugh a nervous laugh.
I tense up a little because I hate when people want to quiz you with the intention of proving you wrong.
‘What is the day of the week after Tuesday?’ He asks again with a straight face.
I know there is no way out of whatever this is, so I say, ‘Wednesday.’
And he bursts into a laugh.
‘It’s not WEDnesday you idiot, it’s WENESDAY.’
‘That’s literally what I said.’
He stops and he’s like, ‘Oh, right. But you know most people pronounce it as WEDnesday, how foolish!’
‘I thought you would too but of course, how could a grammar nazi like you make such a mistake,’ he says smiling.
He thinks that’s supposed to be a compliment.
Surely, the girl who always gets the highest scores in English Literature and Language in school, the one who is scribbling away in a journal at all times, and the one who is never seen without a book in her hand, must be a grammar nazi and take pride in it?
But I was not.
And I took no pride in mocking people.
When I saw people humiliate others either online or in real life because they mispronounced a word or confused ‘your’ with ‘you’re’, I thought to myself:
Why do people have to be so mean?
Are these self-proclaimed ‘grammar nazis’ so proud of being so because they have no other skill or accomplishment in life other than knowing the basics of the English language?
In school and college, and even in other social settings, most people looked to me. When person X laughed at person Y and corrected their grammar, person X looked to me to join in and validate them and make fun of person Y. I never did.
I told person X that being a ‘grammar nazi’ is not something to be proud of and being rude to people is not cool and language is not a big deal.
And then everyone in the room always looked at me in horror! How can she, Hargun, the writer, the person who does this for a living, the one who speaks the way she does, say something like this? And to that, I have to ask them, ‘Is English the only language in the world?’
There are 6,500 spoken languages in the world
And English is only one of them. Like people forget that? Especially in India? Like I get that to succeed at a professional level in the country you need to be fluent in English and that’s a skill that’s a must. It doesn’t matter then if you know three other languages.
This boy I was dating way back told me that his mother can’t speak English. And then quickly, before I could say anything, he added, ‘But she is educated. In Malayalam. So she is smart.’
And it broke my heart a little because clearly he had to defend the intelligence of his mother to many others in the past because she didn’t speak English.
But it’s not just an Indian thing. On my poetry blog, I see so many people from certain Asian and European countries who try to write poetry in English, and have such beautiful things to say, but others can only focus on the grammatical errors they made and shitpost in the comments.
However, even if the person making a grammatical mistake is not bilingual or multilingual and only speaks English, that doesn’t mean you have the pass to look down on them.
If you can understand what they are saying, move on
Can you understand what the other person is saying? Is the basic purpose of communication being fulfilled? Yes? Then shut the fuck up and move on.
How and when I ‘correct’ people
That’s my job. I am a content marketing person and I have to write, edit, and ensure everything that goes out from a brand’s side is error-free.
But personally, it’s usually when I’m speaking to someone I know well, like a friend or relative, and it’s just the two of us.
If they make a mistake like they use a wrong preposition or mispronounce something, I typically ignore it. But if I think it’s too glaring, and if I know they will appreciate knowing it, I do say something.
But here’s what I do:
If they ask, ‘Do you find it really hard to cope up with the pandemic-induced stress?’
I reply, I answer and let the conversation flow.
I don’t pounce on them for their mistake.
‘Yeah, I do. It can get really hard on some days and I just know I have to let it pass’.
Then, when they nod, or there is a pause, I add, ‘Hey also, just for reference, it’s actually ‘cope with’ and not ‘cope up with’.
I give them a few seconds, then I add, ‘I know, many people use it that way. I’m sure at some point I did too.’
I’ve found that approaching it this way actually makes the other person feel:
Not like an idiot
And we easily continue with the earlier flow and ease of the conversation.
Honestly, I would not do earlier this. I would not correct people at all. But then I had some of them ask me to. Some said they want to get better at the language, some others said it’s better for me to tell them than others to mock them for it.
I don’t, however, point such things out when speaking to someone I barely know. Cos like why?
Also, bro, language is fluid
It’s ever changing and it reflects the different eras and generations and evolves with us.
We have words in use today that didn’t exist just a few decades ago like selfie, foodie, photobomb, troll, and even adulting!
Words like these may seem obvious, however there are some nuances that go unnoticed. In 11th grade, my English teacher told us how it used to be ‘got’ and ‘forgot’ not ‘gotten’ and ‘forgotten’ before.
Also, no one uses Shakespearean language today! Though, personally, I wouldn’t mind that all too much.
Fun fact time
The great, Nobel-Prize-winning playwright, George Bearnard Shaw, did not use apostrophes! He didn’t see the need for them. He thought they looked ugly, raised printing costs, and were absolutely unnecessary. Arent, cant, isnt, youll. Geddit?
Only in words that would be hard to comprehend without an apostrophe did Shaw use one. Like in I’ll (cos otherwise it would be Ill).
I studied his play Arms and the Man in school and never noticed it then. But after reading about this a few years ago, I went back and saw through the same book I used in school – Not a single apostrophe where it was not required! Cant. Ive. Dont. Youll. And no one ever even noticed! And it didn’t hinder our reading or understanding of his play. I guess Shaw was really on to something!
‘Grammar nazi’ is not a compliment
I think it is an insult. People who proudly wear that badge are just obnoxious and derive joy from policing people. They are self-righteous and low-key malicious.
But because we humans do like labelling things and people, from now on, when someone thinks they are complimenting me, either as a writer or speaker, by calling me a ‘grammar nazi’, I am going to tell them that I am a ‘grammar monk’.
I read that term somewhere online and I think I can live with it!