Confessions of a ‘Grammar Nazi’


We consider languages to be among the greatest creations in human history.

Each language offers something unique to the world and is an expression of the people who created it.

Unfortunately, the language you are now reading – English – is under attack from lazy speakers and a seemingly conscious effort by some to destroy what has taken centuries to create.

Here is just a small sampling of the multitude of ways the language of Shakespeare is in decline.

The pronoun ‘they’, which should indicate more than one person, is rapidly being converted to mean the singular ‘he’ or ‘she’. We see it all the time. On the BBC News website last week, we read a curious sentence that began: ‘They said, “I think it is….”‘

And pity the poor apostrophe, which is often just ignored altogether.

Just consider the name of Canada’s favourite coffee chain – Tim Hortons. What is that supposed to mean? The business is named after a single person – Tim Horton – but the brand Tim Hortons indicates there is more than one. Was Tim Horton cloned, perhaps? A name to indicate Tim Horton’s place, should be, well, Tim Horton’s. It seems the company doesn’t believe Canadians are smart enough to understand an apostrophe ‘s’.

The correct use of an apostrophe doesn’t seem to harm McDonald’s.

Another problem is excessive words that don’t add anything to a message. We blame that almost completely on government. Politicians and bureaucrats seem to think that more words equal more importance.

The funniest recent example is how the concise Trans-Pacific Partnership was reborn as the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership. The extra words add nothing worthwhile. ‘Agreement’ and ‘Partnership’ also basically convey the same message.

And the use of incorrect words is everywhere.

The word ‘literal’ has already been destroyed. In formal English, it means something that exists in reality without exaggeration. Today’s usage has turned that meaning upside down, and you hear nonsense like, “I literally died laughing.”

Another misused word is ‘pressurized’, which you often hear on TV sports programs with comments about the ‘pressurized’ atmosphere of a high-pressure game. A game could be ‘pressurized’ if it is happening in an aircraft cruising at 35,000 feet.

And let’s not get started on the constant misuse of the words there, they’re and their, and the equally misused its and it’s.

Then there’s the absolutely brutal mangling of the English language on Twitter.

Of course, you will also see mistakes in this newspaper and any other, but we try our best to use correct English.

Change in any language is to be expected. More than that, it is inevitable.

But is it too much to hope that any language should evolve into a better version of itself? Unfortunately, we don’t see that with English.

Instead, we see English devolving when those who misuse the language are the heroes of self-expression, while those who defend the language are condemned as ‘Grammar Nazis’.

Grammar Nazis is an enlightening slur. It’s another example of people misusing a word that they don’t seem to completely understand.

Or perhaps they think we are literally Nazis.