Grammarian stereotype

Rob Balder’s Partially Clips shows a stereotypical grammarian in action:

Geoff Pullum considered posting the strip on Language Log (Balder is a fan), but decided that that would just “contribute to strengthening the image of grammarians as pettifogging correctness quibblers” (as he said in e-mail). On Balder’s site, he put it this way:

I never miss reading PartiallyClips, and enjoy it enormously.  And yet I hang back from pointing people to this strip.  Do grammarians such as me (sorry, grammarians such as I) really have to live with this image (cold-looking tie-wearing dude at desk with Hitler mustache and photochromic specs) forever?  I guess it’s true that I do own a pair of photochromic eyeglasses and several ties, but let’s try not to reduce everything to cultural stereotypes here.  We grammarians are not the party-pooping, nitpicking, thin-lipped, stern-gazed, disapproving syntactic Nazis of myth and legend.  We are fun and sexy guys. Really we are.

But here I’m taking the risk (with Balder) of holding the stereotype up to mockery.

By the way, the strip also illustrates another common feature of the way ordinary people talk about language: “grammar” used to refer to everything in language that is regulated (posters on Language Log have complained a number of times about the It’s All Grammar attitude): spelling, punctuation, pronunciation, word choice, etc. In the strip, the protector of “usage and grammar” is correcting a mistake in word choice (mistake in the sense that the ad’s word choice is not the norm for the intended meaning) — of a type (the “classical malapropism”) that has been fairly well studied, but primarily by psycholinguists rather than grammarians. (I myself have a foot in each of these camps, but the study of mistakes and the study of grammatical structure are two very different activities.)

One Response to “Grammarian stereotype”

  1. It’s All Grammar « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] AZBlog, 8/12/09: Grammarian stereotype (link) […]

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