Rants and Rambles of a Retired Grammar Nazi

I used to think that someone’s irregular dialect or their misuse of “standard” grammatical functions was a trait of their ignorance. Well…I’m here to say, “…my bad, yo.”

So, I’m taking this class (American English) and it’s similar to a linguistics or grammar course, except instead of telling you how to grammar, it tells you why we grammar. It’s some pretty gnarly-rad interesting stuff. As a result, I’ve come to the realization that there’s no such thing as “perfect” English (seems obvious), despite there being a “standard” English. There is no such thing as “correct” grammar or speech. There are no logical prescriptive rules…they just tell us what “looks” right. Everything is so arbitrary and vague; who am I to tell someone that their variety of language is inferior to The Standard?

It merely supplements it.
It adds another accent, another dialect.
Something more than just an acknowledgment of a hoop to jump through.

One day, I’m going to be an English professor, and I’m going to have to explain to students that learning Standard American English is damn-near required as a member of “Academic America”. However, I don’t want my students to lose their voice…their variation of English that demonstrates their culture and identity. The English that has it’s own funsies with idiolect, slang, and odd idioms.

How do I teach The Standard without stripping away their identity with my handy-dandy marker-pen: a Grammar Nazi’s favorite tool?

Perhaps I could suggest, “Hey, I think this is cool-beans, but other instructors might think otherwise. Perhaps reconsider your word choice or sentence organization.”

Maybe I could teach them how to jump through the standard hoop, with some little tricks on the side. Maybe I could let them decorate that hoop first…put some glitter and pipe-cleaners on that mess!

Either way, I definitely don’t want to be an instructor that busts-out a red pen every time something doesn’t sound “standard” or “American”. I feel awful when a non-native English speaker comes to see me in the Writing Center asking how they can make their essay sound more “American” because their Professor thinks their language is “awkward”.

Their language isn’t awkward, it’s creative and demonstrates their ability play with the language rather than assimilate to expectations.

However, what if I get a student’s paper and I can’t understand a single word or sentence; is it still interesting and creative? Or is it “bad English”? Well, heck, it’s still English, right? …it just might be watered down with their dialect or initial language. Again, perhaps a suggestion is necessary. This would probably call for an exception to my odd idea of “down with grammar conventions”.

I feel like I would be forced to tell a student that their regional or social variation of English isn’t acceptable…in my class or in any other class…not because it’s wrong…but because it wouldn’t do them any good when they transition into the next level.

Bah! What are your thoughts on this matter?

At this point, I’m just writing a fragmented rant about how grammar is subjective and shouldn’t be confined to prescribed definitions. All dialects, variation, and accents should be embraced and encouraged…perhaps this is too extreme.

Grammar Nazi turned Grammar Hippie.

::insert “I have no idea what I’m doing” meme here::

– Ashley Lunsford


  1. emilyardagh

    Interesting post! I teach grammar and I often find myself correcting “mistakes” that I know many native English speakers would make themselves because of where they come from… Difficult to know what to do! I enjoyed this 🙂

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