Dateline: Jan. 20, 2009. Washington, D.C. Motor vehicles chafe the streets while eager pilgrims weave in and out of parked cars. The air is solid ice, the frosty chill permeating even the thickest winter coats. Towering trees, devoid of leaves, stand stock still, stark against the grey clouds. Spectators chatter excitedly with the media, their gushing words steaming onto the camera lens.
“I’m so happy to be here, it’s such a historical event!”
The noble pomp and august ceremony of President Obama’s inauguration was a blur to me. Sitting alone in the dark, sweating in my own filth, surrounded by scattered fragments of my hopes and dreams. I literally could not see the TV screen through the livid haze clouding my eyes. My throat seared as I screeched my fury at those pixelated images:
“HISTORICAL?! OF COURSE IT’S BLOODY HISTORICAL, IT’S OCCURRING!! THE WORD YOU MEAN IS ‘HISTORIC’!! AAARRGHHHH!!”
As I was being treated for my popped eye-veins, I realized that in rare instances, the word could actually be used in that context. Nevertheless, nothing could quell my blind rage at this uncommon word usage, symptomatic of a greater unrest in my soul.
You see, studying ancient and modern languages has affected me deeply. Aside from becoming a pompous ass, there have been other, more sinister, side effects. That ubiquitous phrase from Obama’s inauguration was merely the verbal flaw that broke the camel’s back. I realize now the truth, the harsh reality of it all. I am, as friends have so warmly labeled me, a “grammar Nazi.”
I am not alone, however. We grammar Nazis are everywhere. We are both men and women. We are organized; we have Facebook groups. As members of the “Word Reich,” we exist as neo-Nazis exist today. We glide beneath the frozen surface of society, never daring to break through and breathe the sweet air of free expression, for fear of being outcast by our allies and upsetting our moms.
“Don’t correct people. It’s rude!”
“Well, you know what’s more rude, mother? RAPING THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE!!” We want to shout but are suppressed.
At social events, we never get involved, because the only party we enjoy is the Party. You can see us there, standing on the edge of conversation circles, hands clasped behind our backs, listening intently. That glint in our eye? Hatred.
Occasionally, the more daring among us will chime in at an opportune time, usually something along the lines of: “Speaking of Natural Light… did you realize that the word ‘natural’ comes from the Latin ‘naturalis’ and has carried the same meaning into modern English?”
However, the elite circle of the Word Reich, the highest rank, are not such party animals. They do not hesitate to fire corrections right into your stomach whenever they hear it pronounced “woman” when “women” is meant; “good” when it should be “well”; or “literally” used in a redundant fashion. In short, they will Show. No. Mercy. … and all the while putting the “pun” in punitive action!
Although there are varying levels of grammatical Nazism, there are many common founding principles. While we share a part of our name with the historical (not historic!) Nazis, we differ from them in many ways. We don’t support an Aryan race; we support a “Literaryan” race. It’s not about “lightning war,” it’s about enlightening word deployment. We don’t employ the Constabulary, we use vocabulary. It’s not about authoritarians, it’s about authors. We don’t effect delusions, we offer allusions.
We don’t use dictators, we use good diction. “And as for the eagle, that symbol of supreme Nazi power, how can you link that to your grammar Nazis?” I hear you ask. What, haven’t you heard? About the bird?
Well, the bird, bird, bird, the bird is the word!
Yeah, the bird, bird, bird, the bird is the word!
Now, since “the bird” equals “the word,” our two groups are thus logically linked. But are our fates likewise intertwined? That can only be decided by our actions. Action is what we need. Action, and change. Now.
Now. In this new era of freedom, of change, of a literate president, NOW is the time to rise up! Rise up, my fellow grammar Nazis! Rise up and be true to yourselves! Rise up against the powers that be! Or, more correctly, the powers that are! Rise up and help transform the very building blocks of society, language! Rise up and protect your planet from this pestilence, this plague, this abhorrence! RISE UP! RISE UP!
Yeah… I think maybe it’s time I quit German.