I’m a fairly peaceful person, but I often write about punching people out, delivering roundhouse kicks and ramming my vehicle into other vehicles. It’s mostly in humor, but every once in a while I step back and think about the language of violence and whether it adds to the actual nature of violence in our society. I also swear a lot, which sometimes I think is funny. But again, I question if, on occasion, I use it humorously to replace actually being humorous.
This is all to say, that I spend a lot of time thinking about what I’m writing and I make choices. Sometimes I stick with the funny, even if I’m very much against violence, don’t believe in calling people swear words and try very hard in real life not to hit other cars. If someone calls me on it, I accept the consequences for making a deliberate choice.
So often these days, I run across articles or posts or comments on posts where it is apparent that the writer is not thinking, but rather blurting. So I write this post for those people, who may or may not ever read it. I have to believe that they are just being spontaneous and not deliberately obtuse, because that’s one too many humans not thinking.
I don’t know if the casual use of Nazi began with Seinfeld soup Nazi episode or with our truly dubious politicians, whose mouths run on platitudes and sound bytes. I was reading a blogger’s About page which said something to the effect, if your a grammar nazi, go away. And I did. Not because I participated in the Third Reich’s devastating destruction of millions of people. I did because if you’re bragging about being inarticulate and using unoriginal hyperbole, it is unlikely I will enjoy reading anything on that particular blog. Thanks for the warning.
This phrase is problematic for me in a couple of ways. First, having read a significant amount of well-documented Holocaust stories, having visited Dachau and the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, I find turning a perpetrator into a quip to be appalling.
There are a lot of phrases and words that have entered popular vernacular which are echoes of the torture and misery inflicted on and by humans in the past. There’s a lot of distance from the events or the practices. One would have to do research to find that information. But references to the horrors of World War II, dropped into casual discourse because you don’t want to learn how to spell or punctuate or use correct tense is a problem. Do you know the history and do not care or are you imitating what everyone else says on the internet?
The second way in which this phrase irritates me is that having good grammar is treated as some sort of elitist skill. Treating good communication skills with contempt and derision speaks to a fad of anti-intellectualism that has swept across our culture and politics. I don’t freak out about typos (except my own). I do avoid reading media that is riddled with misspellings, lacks capitalization or punctuation, or leaves words in a dogpile instead of using paragraphs. Maybe e.e. cummings and Cormac McCarthy can pull it off, but I don’t read them, either. The whole point of grammar is to provide a unified system that can convey ideas to other humans. Maybe you’re writing for an extra-terrestrial crowd.
And honestly, if you know your grammar skills are shit, stop bragging about it and use the many resources available on and off line to start learning some basic rules. I’m still challenged by the many rules and continue to try and improve. In progress is forgivable. Giving up and calling the other passersby grammar Nazis only speaks to belligerence and inadequacy.
Drinking the kool aid
In 1978, when I was 11 years old, we watched, with rapt attention, the coverage following the murder of Congressman Leo Ryan in Guyana. As the story unfolded, we learned about Jim Jones and the 909 people who apparently committed suicide on his command by ingesting a flavored drink laced with potassium cyanide. Hence the phrase “drinking the kool aid”, which I’ve seen repeatedly in articles, referenced in TV show dialogues and in tiresome comment forums. It has become a way of slapping down people who disagree, by suggesting that they’re not thinking for themselves. Ironic, since the use of this phrase indicates that as well.
The story behind that phrase is much more horrifying. The mass suicide was really a murder-suicide as many victims, especially infants and those who protested, received involuntary injections. Over the winter, I read A Thousand Lives by Julia Scheeres, who did an outstanding job of showing how ordinary people ended up on a path to their own destruction – a path that held more promise and hope than anything they’d experienced in their lives. They wanted what we all want – decent jobs, community, connections, a sense of purpose. Many of the people were marginalized in society – blacks, ex-criminals, the elderly, the young, struggling families. They died because they had hope.
It’s quite possible I’m a humorless git who takes things too seriously. I just don’t find mass murder and suicide that quip-worthy. There are still survivors of these events alive and well on this planet – people who lost entire families to these hellish events, people who still wake up in a sweat, thinking of last words and moments and facial expressions. Maybe it’s too soon to memetically mock them.
A Few Resources:
Night by Elie Wiesel
A Thousand Lives: The Untold Story of Jonestown by Julia Scheeres