I am going to mention Geoff Pullum again. Not because I wish to say anything about him — I think I’ve said enough (here and here) — but because about a week ago the Daily Telegraph published an article about him, by Tom Chivers, showing him to be the thoughtful and rigorous linguist that he generally is. What I do have something to say about is the headline that the article bears online: “Are grammar Nazis ruining the English language?” (Geoff Pullum himself, in the Language Log post in which he references the article, calls it “regrettably headlined.”)
The “grammar Nazis” mentioned in the body of the article are, as far as I can tell, people who get peevish about alleged violations of imagined rules of grammar. What this behavior has to do with Nazism, at least as I experienced first-hand in the ghettos and concentration camps of Central Europe during World War II, is beyond me.
It seems to be so universally agreed that the Nazis were bad that people nowadays apply the name, or other names or terms associated with Nazism, to whatever they don’t like. So we have Rush Limbaugh’s “feminazis” and Seinfeld’s “the soup Nazi”; Obama’s promotion of affordable health care earns him a comparison with Hitler, and a billionaire likens increased taxation of obscene profits to Kristallnacht.
It’s not that people could have forgotten what the actual Nazis were like. The entertainment industry sees to it that movies (features and documentaries) and TV programs about the Nazi era keep coming out, and the Holocaust industry fills the media with reminders.
I am tired of having to tell people, “No, a soup-stand owner who treats customers in a capricious and arbitrary manner is not therefore a Nazi.” The Nazis were, in fact, anything but capricious or arbitrary: they followed procedures meticulously. People, from those who saw “Stalag 17″ 60 years ago or “The Book Thief” last year, should know that. And higher taxes on the super-rich are not the same as breaking shop windows and dragging people out to beat them up.
So, a plea from someone who was there: leave this particular N-word for the real thing.