it has come to my attention that there is a young breed of grammar nazis with a loud, proud presence on the facebook. a facebook search for ‘grammar’ returned 500+ hits for group names. a lot of these are grammar school reunion type groups, but even more are dedicated to proper grammar, or, more accurately, to hating improper grammar. i intended to look at all 500 and count how many were pro-grammar nazism and how many were against, but honestly, i just couldn't take it after about 10 pages of group profiles. (and my search, of course, didn't hit groups about vocabulary, spelling, or punctuation!) suffice it to say, of my sampling, the ratio of nazi to non-nazi groups was about 7 to 1.
this might not appear very worrisome at first glance--after all, has facebook so far proven to be an effective launch pad for political causes? and the ratio of, say, pro-drinking to anti-drinking groups is probably much higher than 7 to 1. yes, they're frivolous and often ironic. so i'm just taking the website, and people's willingness to join these groups as some general indicator of the vague fancies of my generation. the thing that does, honestly, make me feel a bit threatened is the vehemence and violence with which groups (from both sides of the aisle) attack their causes and each other.
i use the word 'cause' carefully in that last sentence. each group on facebook has a category designation, and the most common by far among grammar nazi groups is 'common interests: beliefs and causes'. they're positively militant! several of the group names/descriptions involve the joke 'bad grammar makes me [sic],' but several are even stronger, such as 'bad grammar makes me want to shit myself and die' or 'bad grammar kills kittens.'
aside from the violently titled groups, there are the social pressure groups, which seem to fall into two main categories, with a bit of overlap in the middle: judgmental, and sexual. the judgemental groups are mostly of the 'i judge you when you use bad grammar' variety. the description of the group 'Correct grammar is your friend,' to take one example among many, reads:
Your and you're are not the same thing.the groups i'm calling sexual rely on the notion, as do so many causes and ad campaigns, that sex sells. (a search i never thought i'd try, 'grammar sex,' returned 16 groups, about half of which were on topic.) they have names like 'good grammar is sexy,' 'proper grammar is a turn on,' and 'girls like guys with proper grammar.' and isn't that just a coercion off a different color?
Ur, u, r, and any other stupid abbreviation are not words.
How about we learn how to use correct grammar and spelling so our generation doesn't look like retards?
of course, i'm not the first to notice this phenomenon. already there is a backlash in the facebook community--that outspoken eighth group that is anti-grammar nazi. these groups have names like 'bad grammar just had sex with your bf/gf,' and 'educated people against grammar and spelling.' a post on the message board of 'bad grammar feels good and sounds cool' (bgfgasc) reveals the depth of hatred between the two camps (i'm sorry for the length--i can't resist posting the whole thing.):
this group is a threat to all who use language.rape? fools? human progress? downfall of language!!? a group member responds:
grammar is not a joke!
grammar does not exist for the purpose of being raped by inexpressive and incoherent fools like yourselves! manipulating grammar to form thoughts and ideas is what allows human progress to occur!
you think shakespeare didn't care about grammar? thornton wilder? shel silverstein?
you fools, with your screwed up syntax and abuse of punctuation, will bring the downfall of language itself!
and such a slippery slope! what's next?
you all simply don't realize what kind of greatness can be achieved by using good grammar in speech and in writing because you don't have the ability or the will.
think about this: [sic--watch as he struggles not to end the sentence with a preposition!] how can bad grammar feel good without the good grammar to which to compare it? when you've reached the point where you don't know the difference between good grammar and bad, how will it feel good anymore?
but seriously. grammar is important. your use of it is what expresses your true intentions.
"you fools, with your screwed up syntax and abuse of punctuation, will bring the downfall of language itself!"there are, of course, more moderate groups like 'good grammar: not entirely unimportant,' but their message boards are equally abuzz with members correcting each others' grammar (even a member of bgfgasc writes, "We're talking about speaking with bad grammar, right? Because poor grammar in writing is bad bad bad.") and railing against the opposite group.
We can only hope.
lest you assume i will wholeheartedly come down on the grammar-free side of the debate, let me say that i find many of these groups almost as disturbing as their proper grammar counterparts. first, they use the same rhetorical tactics (sex, death), as the grammar nazis. second, almost all of the groups i've cited so far use the same fallacious reasoning about what grammar is and how it works. personally, i blame the schools.
most, if not all of these groups treat grammar as a set of rules of the type you learn in middle school. and that's fine. be as pro or anti the teaching of grammar as you want. but in a deeper sense, language IS grammar. a lot of group descriptions, and especially discussion board posts, act as though language could exist without a grammar. (another post at bgfgasc: "To have no universal laws of grammar would be like physics without math to explain it"... ... ... WHAT!?) then they argue that this would be good and freeing, or that it's dangerous to the possibility of communication.
both positions are patently absurd because, and i can't stress this enough, even our mistakes are grammatical. EVERYTHING we do toward the end of communication involves grammar. 'improper' grammar follows patterns. speech errors, typos and mispellings are systematic. people who think they're eschewing grammatical rules to feel good and sound cool are sorely mistaken! they're just following even more deeply (cognitively?) ingrained rules that are so basic you don't even have to learn them in school! the same admonition goes for those who think others are 'breaking' the rules. they may break with certain conventions of erudite usage, but they'll never escape grammar or--god forbid--damage communication in any way. if people make mistakes that are too wild, they fail at communication, and that's the end of the story. if the same mistake occurs over and over again (and these are the mistakes grammar nazis are really afraid of), it's, first, psycholinguistically motivated, and second, it becomes the norm (or the rule, if it gains enough status). and that's how language changes.
i did find one group, 'El Club: Where Creativity And Originality Meets Punctuality And Grammar,' that seemed to have a reasonable political agenda. it bills itself as a safe space for spanish speakers to express themselves (in spanish, english, or spanglish) without worrying about grammatical norms. this makes sense because a minority or foreign group can be persecuted/excluded/marginalized for speaking improperly, and speaking properly in a foreign language might be especially difficult and socially intimidating. (interestingly, this group wasn't listed as a 'cause', but as a 'common interest: language' group.)
but, by and large, these groups that people choose to freely associate themselves with are argument for the sake of argument. they're all anti and very little pro. almost none of the groups posted anything resembling the 'beautiful' or 'free' language they claim their approaches will generate. they rhetorically marshal all the best and worst things in life: sex, death, illness, politics (don't think they don't talk about W.), violence, money, prestige, and acceptance, for what? for words? for apostrophes and commas? for a subject-verb agreement that will change in 50 years no matter what we do? that makes me sad for my generation.