This is the story of how I realized I was a Grammar Nazi. It was a very distressing realization, although in retrospect some of the signs were there. I did not think I was a Grammar Nazi, but… Had I ever told people that their “loose” should lose a vowel? Yes. Had I ever passive-aggressively shared witty posters about the pitfalls of misusing “their,” “they’re” and “there”? Yes. ‘It’s” and “its”? Yes? “You’re” and “your”? …yes? “Affect” and “effect”? No! (I just roll my eyes dramatically at that one.) But – my poor heroic self revolted - I wasn’t doing all this to be a Grammar Nazi! I was doing it to save people from the Grammar Nazis.
You see, I don’t mind someone slipping up and writing “too” instead of “to.” It doesn’t change my opinion of them. It doesn’t take away from the content of their writing. It doesn’t make me feel superior, since this and much worse happens to me all the time. (And, Murphy willing, will probably happen in this very post.) What I feel is basically that mixture of sympathy and social awkwardness you get when you notice someone has something in their teeth. You know they didn’t do that on purpose. You know they are not aware of it. You know they would like to become aware of it and fix it before all those pesky Others laugh at them. But would they appreciate you bringing it to their attention? Especially if “you” means “complete stranger on the subway”?
And therein lies the problem. I used to correct people. Not on a regular basis, but I would sometimes send them private messages, if it was possible, or even comment publicly if PM was not an option and the situation was desperate. (Take “desperate” to typically stand for “typo-induced hilariously dirty meaning.”) And I did it to save them from the embarrassment of being laughed at by the Grammar Nazis. We all know them, those persons that seem to have not a love, but a fetish for spelling and grammar. Or perhaps they just have a fetish for always correcting people, circumstances be damned, and grammar is their weapon of choice. In any case, what I realized was that I was indistinguishable from them.
To those people that I wanted to save from the embarrassment of being called out by a stranger, I was the stranger embarrassing them. Nothing worse was going to happen to them. There is no Sacred Body of Grammar that we have to defend at every opportunity. (And if there is, there are better venues and better ways to wage that battle.) And if protecting people’s feelings was the point, then the best way to do that was by shutting up. My well-intentioned behavior amounted to a good cop, bad cop routine. “I'm your friend, but do fix your typos before the bad Grammar Nazis get their hands on you!”
It’s difficult to get over the urge to fix texts, especially if you convinced yourself that you’re only doing it for the right reasons, but I stopped. These days before firing off a benevolent grammar comment, I ask myself, “Are you doing this only to make sure no one else is petty enough to do it?” If the answer is yes, I sit on my hands.