I work in Christian publishing, so it’s not surprising I encounter the occasional gramam Nazi, those well-meaning—but intense—folks who can’t listen to someone without interrupting the conversation to correct they’re grammar.
If you’re a grammar Nazi, your skin just broke out in hives and one of your eyes is twitching because of the grammar faux pas I inserted in the previous paragraph.
A few years ago, I passed out my family’s annual Christmas card to co-workers. One of them returned it with corrections, because I didn’t write it the way she thought it should’ve been written. Sigh.
But hands down, the worst grammar Nazi was Philitas of Cos. Philitas was both a scholar and a poet in ancient Greece. Oh, yeah, and a grammarian. A serious grammarian. He compiled a dictionary of rare Greek words. Having studied the “common” Greek used in the New Testament, I daresay this rare-word dictionary was a serioius piece of work. Not exactly a book to curl up with at the beach.
Philitas had a passion—and a reputation—for proper grammar. You know this guy was a hit at parties. “Diomethenes, you should have used the locative case instead of the dative when you told that ridiculous fish story.”
The original grammar Nazi reportedly died while critiquing poor word usage in an essay. According to ancient sources, Philitas got so caught up in his research and critique that he never got around to eating. That’s right: he starved to death. He’d rather correct others’ grammar than eat.
The majority of us have a tendency to correct someone else’s grammar … or sense of fashion …ability to park (THOSE LINES ARE THERE FOR A REASON, BUDDY!) … way they discipline their children … sing a particular song … or overuse ellipses in a blog. I’ll admit that when I visit Bible study groups, I occasionally have to bite my tongue when the leader mispronounces a biblical name. (IT’S PRONOUNCED meh-FIHB-o-sheht, BUDDY!)
Many of the things we want to correct in others are a matter of personal preference (Except maybe the parking situation. Really. Park between the lines, OK?). Even the rules for grammar allow for some flexibility. For the sake of unity, it really is not necessary to correct every error. If we do, we have a way of alienating people. We give off an air of superioirty that does nothing to encourage or build relationships. (If you are a teacher, ignore this. Your task is to correct in order for us to learn. I’m referring to our regular interactions with people outside a classroom.)
Of course, there are times we need to speak up and correct another person. If they’re teaching some bad or wacky theology, correction is needed. If they are going to do something hurtful or that dishnors Christ, correctiuon is needed. But even in thoses cases, love and grace should color how we speak the truth.
I like doing things correctly, but I’ve learned the value and benefit of embracing and accepting others, even if they don’t live up to my way of doing things. After all, I’ve yet to fully live up to Jesus’ standards, but He still embraces ands accepts me.
We would do well to be a little more like Jesus and a lot less like Philitas.
“Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you should answer each person” (Col. 4:6).
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