Inarticulate Hyperbole: Yes, Internet, It’s Too Soon

canstockphoto6161461I’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.

Grammar Nazi

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.

KZDachau1945This 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

Troolie_cottages_in_Jonestown

Attribution: Jonestown Institute

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 Concise History of the Third Reich (Weimar and Now: German Cultural Criticism) by Wolfgang Benz

Voices of the Holocaust

Telling Their Stories: Oral History Archives Project

A Thousand Lives: The Untold Story of Jonestown by Julia Scheeres

Q&A: A Jonestown Survivor Remembers

28 Comments on “Inarticulate Hyperbole: Yes, Internet, It’s Too Soon

  1. Couldn’t agree more. Guess that makes 2 of us who are humourless.

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  2. I do understand and accept your point here about the term “grammar nazi.” I use all lower case on purpose–to echo how it is generally used by people on Facebook, etc. And I agree with you to a point about grammar and punctuation. After all, I once taught that stuff. Sometimes I feel as if I am an elitest when I think ICK while I’m reading. But I don’t think I’m a big stickler, maybe because I know I make mistakes myself. And some of them over and over. Take “that” and “which,” for example. And that’s not a complete sentence. Re the Scheeres book, I maybe have already told you that I love her Jesus Land. She’s helping me revise my memoir, and she ROCKS.

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    • While I recognize grammar mistakes, I can gloss over them if they don’t impact what the person is trying to say. We all make them and some, like incomplete sentences (I do this as well) are a deliberate choice in rhythm.

      But there are some patterns that make something hard to read, like not capitalizing sentences or using punctuation. If it’s a stylistic choice, it seems a tad arrogant and the writing better be awesome, because I, and most readers, don’t want to work that hard at mediocre writing. Maybe it’s just me.

      A Thousand Lives made me really sad, but it also served as a reminder that each person had a story, had hopes, made mistakes, laughed, cried. Memes and catchphrases seem to take all that away and it’s very discomfiting.

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      • Once I get past this really busy time I plan to take a little writing break and read a few books. That might be one I want to read. I know what you mean about arrogance. I’ve been in poetry workshops where I’ve encountered that. It’s much more prevalent in amateur poetry, IMO, than anywhere else. And I don’t enjoy it. At all.

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  3. Worthy points, Michelle. I appreciate especially your objection to trivializing horrific events. Thanks for something to think about. Peace, John

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    • It’s one of those bees in my bonnet. I think, too, the internet can be a very young place when relatively recent history to me is ancient to a lot of other writers. But, likely 5 years down the road, someone will joke about Newtown or Ferguson and coin more horrible phrases. And someone like me will write a post about that. And so it goes…

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  4. Granted, “Grammar Nazi” is a poor choice of words. A more appropriate term would be Grammar Scold. Most writers do not object when a reader respectfully points out a grammar error (though, there are always those who do). But the web is a big world, all to often populated by those who take delight in scolding, be it about grammar or opinions they do not share.

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    • There are always people on the internet that publicly pick at others on minor points. I like to think of them as “jerks”. My irritation is with people who are defiant about their own ignorance. If you are smart enough to know that you’re not very good at something, you’re smart enough to learn.

      And it’s not an issue of perfectionism – it’s an issue of arrogance. If you want people to read what you’ve written and enjoy it, make an effort to make it readable. I read quite a bit by very good writers who blog. Because I like them and want them to appear at their best, I will contact them privately if there is an error. I would want someone to do the same for me. That magic golden rule works every time.

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  5. In short, I agree. Not that I am perfect in my writing (English is my 3rd language) but I strive to become better all the time – and there are plenty of resources available for those who want to learn.

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    • I am constantly looking up words and grammar rules. There are a lot of great resources for that. Perhaps I should have listed those. I know that there are quite a few readers/bloggers with English as a non-native language, but the most egregious writing I see is usually from people for whom it is a first language.
      English is one of the more difficult languages to learn. It so often seems illogical. Mistakes are easy to make and I make many of them, but I’m not belligerent about it (most of the time) .

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  6. A senior colleague of mine once told me,that criticisms were necessary to grow as a writer. Most times I am undaunted by ‘nazi grammar’ I believe they help me grow.

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    • I think criticism can be very helpful, but it takes some skill to accept it gracefully, as well as determining what is actually useful. Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment!

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  7. I agree with both your points, Michelle. I don’t know that our culture would–the one which laughs at “fail” videos where people get hurt, and the one which tells its kids they’ve eaten all their Halloween candy in order to see how funny it is to prolong, and film, their crying.

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    • I think there’s plenty to laugh at in the world without relying on schadenfreude and hyperbole. It’s cheap and easy humor that a lot of these video dipshits are going for – it requires too much work and thought otherwise.

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  8. We live in a world where some people will do most anything for their 15 minutes of fame. That said, most of us would love to go viral. Bring it on Facebook, Twitter, and Reddit! I hope someone heard me…
    For a humor blog this is quite a serious list!

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    • I think “going viral” sounds as awful as the experience might be, but I’m a delightful mix of introversion and misanthropy. Sometimes I can get a little pissy and historical on my high horse, hence the list. Humor is forecasted for next week, though.

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  9. We talked about this on Sunday. Still, I laughed too long at “Maybe you’re writing for an extra-terrestrial crowd.”

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  10. The reference to dog pile made me smile so all is not lost in the humour department! Then again I may not be a good judge since I look for it:)

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  11. Thank you. You have remained balanced on your particular tightrope quite neatly, so you’ve earned the right to both blurt and complain a little. And I wholly agree that some topics should be off limits for casual jest, not because of any desire for Political Correctness but simply because some wounds will, and probably *should*, never fully heal. We really ought to show respect and humility sometimes.

    And then, swear about it incontinently, when necessary.

    😉
    Kathryn

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    • I get a little irritated by the way people use the phrase “Political correctness” as well. It seems to me it’s just courtesy and awareness and a learning opportunity for us all. I don’t see how that’s a bad thing. But it does take some recognition that our personal experiences are not universal and not the gauge by which all else is measured. Oh Kathryn, I feel another rant building. But the reminder about humility and respect is a good one.

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