Grammar Nazis Finish Last

One of the many ways in which I am an ass is my habit of feeling superior about my grammar and punctuation skills. I hate to admit, but I frequently get a sneaky feeling of smug satisfaction when I look down on someone’s poorly formatted writing.

The good news is that my attitude will make me lose in the long run.

Why? The grammar Nazis – the people who care about proper form in speech, as in any art – get to come along only when an art form is created. They don’t create it. They don’t establish it. They bureaucratize and formalize something which is already working. Their grammar bureaucracy is useful, but it’s missing a pretty big piece. .

It’s the messy creators and the untrained writers who create the art form which grammar Nazis come along to regulate. These creators still care more about curiosity than they do about formal perfection. They’re simply too ignorant of formal perfection to be constrained by it.

These are the people who actually have something to say. As I’ve left the school world and entered the business world, I’ve found more and more of these – people who can’t write a clear, correctly-punctuated essay worth a damn, but who create and think and communicate profound thoughts. The simple fact is that you don’t need to know where to put your comma or your quotation marks if you’ve actually found something good or important to express through language.

That’s exactly what grammar Nazis are for. For all of their superiority to informal writers, it’s often grammar Nazis who are editing and polishing and anthologizing the work of the untrained – not creating it themselves.

Just like the jocks end up working for the nerds after high school is over, the grammar Nazis end up working for the informal but dynamic creatives of the world.

Right now, we’re still in the “high school glory days” of grammar Nazis and their ilk. Knowledge – or at least credentialed knowledge – is still held by gatekeepers and measured by bureaucratic, formalized standards like punctuation and grammar styles.

That’s about to change. And why shouldn’t it? The pendulum of what constitutes good and effective lingual communication swings throughout history, but the advantage has always been with the creative mind, not the formal one.

This advantage of the undertrained is only growing with the growth of the internet. You need no grammar or spelling training to make and send great GIFs, clever emojis, or expressive videos. With Google and dozens of online dictionaries a few clicks away, spelling bees and all of the other trappings of the bureaucratic approach to linguistic mastery is done for.

And good riddance. One less thing for me to be an ass about.

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James Walpole

James Walpole is a writer, startup marketer, and perpetual apprentice. You're reading his blog right now, and he really appreciates it. Don't let it go to his head, though.

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