People like to dub strict or scary people Nazis of different sorts. We had a teacher in high school who liked to catch people who were in the hall at the wrong times – the “Hall Nazi.” Normally this is kinda funny but really not accurate in any way. She’ll get you in trouble, the Gestapo got people in trouble, and the comparison ends there. I wonder how Holocaust survivors feel about it.
There are two kinds of fake Nazis that I want to examine. The first are Feminazis. I assert that this name is absolutely ridiculous.
- Feminists are in favor of human rights; Nazis violated them daily, besides actually believing that some people, the lebensunwertes Leben, didn’t deserve them.
- Nazis were against plurality and wanted homogeneity; many feminists (can’t generalize too much of course) are in favor of giving individuals free choices, which leads to plurality, which these feminists say will actually not rush in the apocalypse.
- Nazis forcefully sterilized some people in the name of eugenics; feminists believe in reproductive rights and are against forced sterilization.
- Third-wave feminists are often allied with homosexuals; Nazis killed homosexuals. (Oh, yeah, remember that footnote in your history book?)
- Nazis enforced their will through violence; feminists generally rely on non-violent means. I’ve heard of anti-feminists trying to kill people in the name of being “pro-life,” but I haven’t heard of feminists trying to kill anti-feminists…not that it’s never happened, but honestly, never heard of it. I just googled “feminist kills” to see if I could get some headlines, but all I found were people claiming feminism killed abstract concepts (chivalry, femininity) and stories written by feminists about women who were killed. Under feminist violence I found something about female violence, but not feminist violence per se.
- Rush Limbaugh apparently said feminists are waging a holocaust against the unborn. Um, no. It is true that most feminists are pro-choice, but regardless of where you stand on abortion, it’s simply inaccurate to say that pro-choice = pro-abortion. In the Holocaust, Jews and others were deliberately sought out and systematically exterminated. In pro-choice law, women get to decide whether to abort or not, and many decide not to, and feminists do not hunt them down and force them to abort fetuses. Nazis hated Jews; feminists do not hate fetuses. Plenty of feminists have kids. To say pro-choice = pro-abortion is like saying pro-separation of church and state = atheist or anti-Prohibition = pro-drunkenness.
I suspect that the real reason for the Feminazi label is that feminists get angry over sexism and people aren’t good at handling female anger. They tend to either make fun of it (“you’re cute when you’re angry,” “somebody’s panties are in a twist!”) or act like it’s so intense and scary that angry women can’t even be dealt with (“what a bitch”, “whoa, must be that time of the month! Everybody WATCH OUT!”). This is a case of the latter – she’s not just angry, she’s a Nazi! People can play it down or play it up but actually listening to it is often out of the question. They tend to focus on the anger itself, as a problem with the woman, rather than considering the reason for the anger and the possibility that it is legitimate (and, ahem, not merely PMS-induced).
Feminazis got that name from anti-feminists, but Grammar Nazis, the second kind of fake Nazi I want to look at, name themselves that. They even join Facebook groups to flaunt their Grammar Nazihood. They don’t consider it a bad thing because it’s said jokingly; they don’t actually think they’re naziesque (haha I put a French suffix on Nazi). They’re just strict, like the Hall Nazi.
So the term Feminazi is supposed to be a real Nazi comparison, and the term Grammar Nazi is not. I think the opposite is true. I think Grammar Nazism is in fact a little like real Nazism – not a lot, but a little. Before I make my case, here’s the disclaimer. The way I define Grammar Nazism may not be the way you define it. If you are simply against spelling and punctuation errors, you’re clear. But I think of Grammar Nazis as the people who police the usage of who/whom, the singular they, double negatives, split infinitives, sentence-final prepositions, etc., and who consider nonstandard accents and dialects of English inferior (“you’re pronouncing it wrong,” “those [black] kids are too lazy to speak properly”). And they might even overlap with the people who are offended to have to press 1 for English and to have to overhear a conversation held in America in a foreign language.
Now for the comparison.
- Nazism was based on xenophobia. The Nazis wanted to eradicate that which was different. Grammar Nazis (I’m talking about American ones) want to eradicate different varieties of English so that everyone will speak Standard American English (SAE). None of this Ebonics (AAVE) stuff, none of this heavily accented stuff, none of the dialects spoken in certain regions and certain socioeconomic classes, and not even the English that we’ve always spoken (eg, singular they, split infinitives) but that the Language Mavens decided was wrong based on woefully inadequate and sometimes completely irrelevant information.
- The Nazis based their agenda on a false claim of the superiority of the Aryan race. Grammar Nazis base their agenda on a false claim of the superiority of SAE. Races are different (well, we consider them different anyway), but one is not better than another – the people of one are more powerful than the people of another, and so have the ability to pretend to be better, but that doesn’t make it true. The same can be said of language. Do you think SAE is more logical, more developed, or more complex than AAVE? Guess again. Do you think the singular they is a newfangled invention brought on by political correctness? Tell that to the people who used it in the late 1300s (I have seen this fact in more scholarly articles as well, by the way, but this website is pretty cool). Do you think that double negatives are just obviously illogical and therefore wrong? Funny, the French and the Anglo-Saxons use(d) them without much problem. Maybe it’s only when black people use them that it gets illogical.
- Nazis were racist, and yeah, some (I said some, not all) Grammar Nazis are too. Which should be apparent from the last line in the previous point.
- Nazis were über-nationalistic, and the type of people, whether or not you call them Grammar Nazis, who are anti-any languages in America besides English, yeah, a little nationalistic as well, I’d say. They just call it patriotism instead. You know where the word patriotism comes from? The word for fatherland. Just sayin.
I think a lot of Grammar Nazis, especially the people who police the usages I listed above and who consider AAVE and other non-standard varieties inferior to SAE, are actually very well-educated people who (through little fault of their own, thanks to our educational system) happen to be uninformed on the scholarly study of language. I think if they knew more, a lot of them would change their minds, because, ironically, I think their views come out of intellectualism more than hatred. Like the guy who told me that AAVE isn’t a language because you can put “izzle” into any word, so it isn’t systematic, which languages must be – not realizing that there are, more or less, rules for the use of “izzle,” and more obviously, that Snoop Dogg does not define AAVE and that the language exists outside of rap lyrics. He sounded smart, but he obviously knew jack shit about language. That’s the story with language, though – you don’t see all the rules behind it unless you study it scientifically, because our brains are built to sift through them for us.
So learn how language works and stop judging people : ).