I'm no fan of the phrase, but it's going to come up (often). Do we need...

  • to flag it as offensive?
  • to have a FAQ recommending against its use?
  • to "suck it up"?
  • to indicate that while one can self-identify that way, one can't use that phrase for others?

Just thinking "aloud" and wondering what others think.

Clarification (possibly the first of many): I find the word "Nazi" more tacky than offensive in this context and would love to see the phrase disappear. (I self-identify as a "pedantic *hole" to avoid using the phrase.) My bigger issue is that I expect the phrase to be used as a pejorative address to pedantic proscriptive grammarians. It's the same sort of conversation stopper (and argument starter) as calling someone a "fanboy" on a programming site.

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Not to be a "GN", but did you really mean to put double quotes between your term and its 's'? –  moioci Aug 5 '10 at 22:19
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@moioci: I don't see why not! Though unconventional, that's the only way to form the plural of the phrase, rather than a phrase containing a plural. (Why plural? Perhaps because the phrase is going to come up multiple times!) –  ShreevatsaR Aug 5 '10 at 22:36
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Maybe having an equivalent opposite will mitigate the problem? meta.english.stackexchange.com/questions/102/… –  Benjol Aug 16 '10 at 8:40
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8 Answers

"Grammar nazi" is a bit of silliness most often self-applied and when applied to others, in my experience, is done so with an intent of gentleness. So I would tread lightly before waving around banners about how offensive or tacky the term is and just let it be because it's more likely to spin up ugly debates to complain about it than it would be to just ignore it. I once used the term and apparently offended someone, and would probably never do it again, but other may not have had that lesson, or are perhaps just less sensitive than me.

In any case, given that more than one person self-identified as a grammar nazi during the commitment phase on Area 51, I don't think drawing lines in the sand or preparing for a battle on this matter is a good idea unless/until it actually becomes problematic. Otherwise you risk making a mountain out of a molehill.

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Only a Grammar Nazi would invoke Godwin's Law. –  Robert Cartaino Aug 6 '10 at 22:15
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Interesting, I've never heard of anyone being legitimately offended — as opposed to mock offended for comedic effect — by the term "Grammar Nazi." The people I grew up around and the people I hang out with simply don't associate it with the historical Nazis. If anything, they and I use it for friendly ribbing or self-deprecation.

That said, I can certainly understand how it could come across as offensive to others, particularly those with more direct experience with historical Nazis (I'm only in my mid-20s). I'm on board with making it official policy to frown on the term. Also, I suggest using the equally silly but less emotionally charged "Grammar Police" as a replacement for those times when GN is used by, say, a new user or someone who really wants to convey a certain tone.

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I agree : I think this should be a (gentle) recommendation in the FAQ –  cindi Aug 14 '10 at 19:49
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I guess that the term Grammar Nazi has a different connotation for people living in different places. There are words an American would not use when referring to other people, and there are different words a European would use when referring to other people. –  kiamlaluno Aug 26 '10 at 3:23
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Perhaps Americans think of this Seinfield episode en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Soup_Nazi and are chuckling to themselves. No superlatives for you! –  Jared Updike Oct 5 '10 at 6:47
    
I very much like the suggestion to use "Police" instead of the "N-word", but newcomers might need to be informed gently from time to time. I can understand why some would regard this term as very offensive, but those who do should also realize that most who use the word don't mean to be rude or insensitive, and would probably readily apologize if they knew they had offended. P.S. (@JaredUpdike): I chuckled at your "No souperlatives for you!" comment. –  J.R. Jul 13 '12 at 18:51
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While the term "grammar nazis" makes me uneasy, it would make me more uneasy to support the banning of the term. If it's tossed around once or twice in jest, I'll overlook it or just not care. If a particular user is using the term a lot over time, then other behavioral problems are probably going to be included in the package, making the problem somewhat self-correcting.

In addition, StackExchange sites encourage civilized discourse by design, so the problem isn't as likely as it would be on forums and message boards.

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... I wonder if it's legal to use the term in Germany? –  SamB Feb 27 '12 at 0:28
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Nazi is simply unacceptable in anything but an insult. And you're on your own there.

If you need a term to describe the phenomenon, you could call it Grammar Peeving, or Peevage.

Practitioners, natch, are simply Peevers. Those are the terms used, for instance, on Language Log.

Irritating as Peevage can be, very few lives have been lost to it.

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Not sure why this answer attracted downvotes. It's a valid point of view, and one likely to be shared by a significant number of visitors to this site. If we're to form a policy or guidelines, we need to listen to people like John Lawler. –  Pitarou Jul 28 '12 at 13:04
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I think people who take issue with Grammar Nazis have much in common with those who find something offensive in John Lennon's Woman is the nigger of the world, or the Fawlty Towers The Germans episode. The former of which I find deeply moving, the latter extremely amusing.

What I find (slightly) offensive is people saying at least Mussolini made the trains run on time, which to me simply means fascism isn't all bad. Rubbish! - pretty much the only certainties in life are death, taxes, and the fact that social oppression is all and always evil.

On the other hand, I'm (slightly more) offended by people who attack moving or amusing references to examples of evil, with the implication that someone either doesn't know or doesn't care (enough) about whatever he's referencing.

ELU isn't a forum, nor is it intended to provide a platform for people to parade their moral rectitude and lecture others on such matters. I'm not the best example, but tolerance is the order of the day here, today and every day. Get used to the fact that different people have different ideas about what's "offensive". The site as a whole should only concern itself with extreme transgressions, which quite frankly doesn't include light-hearted derogatory references to Nazis.

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I'm not disagreeing with what you're saying; I'd just like to add that your assertion "Get used to the fact that different people have different ideas about what's 'offensive'" goes both ways. Those who are offended by the term need to recogonize that there are others who can somehow manage to use the word lightheartedly; yet those who throw the term around in a jocular fashion should also realize that some will rightfully regard such usage as tasteless; therefore, it's not a bad idea to find a more appropriate way to express that sentiment in a neutral forum. –  J.R. Jul 18 '12 at 9:25
    
@J.R.: True, but I think the "common tongue" encompasses a lot more profanity and other offensive expressions than would be apparent from ELU if we took the more measured approach. I for one don't want to return to the days when dictionaries didn't even list words like "fuck". –  FumbleFingers Jul 18 '12 at 11:18
    
And, incidentally, Mussolini did not make the trains run on time. –  Pitarou Jul 28 '12 at 12:59
    
@Pitarou: I didn't actually know one way or the other. Curiously, I'm quite happy for the fact of it being true or not to remain "indeterminate". Equally, I'm happy for it to be classified as an "urban myth" that people might poke fun at. I just don't like it being advanced as [part-] justification for endorsing fascism. –  FumbleFingers Jul 28 '12 at 13:22
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The term is out there; it is widely understood and lacks a ready alternative. I propose we use "GN", with or without scare quotes, to mean this without calling anyone a Nazi Nazi.

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Nazi is socially unacceptable when it is being used is a positive light and implying some sort of off-topic approval of real life Nazis. That would be offensive.

As for a slur against people who--how can we put this positively--are zealous in enforcing their personal view of grammar, what else should we call them? The technical term would "prescriptive grammarians," which is a bit long in comparison.

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Thanks @MatthewMartin. In addition, the use of "Nazi" in any context other than the historical one unacceptably reduces people's recognition of the real Nazis' almost successful attempt at exterminating the Jewish People, let alone enslaving and murdering hundreds of thousands of others and starting a war that resulted in the deaths of tens of millions of people.

Seinfeld notwithstanding, soup kitchen owners are not Nazis. Nor are pedantic grammarians. Nor are, thankfully, just about any current political actors. Perhaps some of them close or "wannabe", but none Nazis.

That said, I wouldn't want a web discussion site, especially one about language, to ban it. I wouldn't recommend just letting it go by either. Rather, like any other dangerously ignorant utterance, I would expect every reader to educate every user every time. It's not about offensiveness, but about understanding of history.

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Your "hundreds of thousands" of non-Jews is a vast underestimate. –  Peter Shor Jul 17 '12 at 14:09
    
I figured under-estimate so nobody would dispute my point. But yes, you're right. Especially since I included "enslaving", millions would be right: jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Holocaust/… –  talkaboutquality Jul 18 '12 at 14:55
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