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The Rules of Disparagement

I suggested yesterday in the "Word snobbery" post that the term grammar Nazi merits an unfavorable look. I think it is objectionable both as an exaggeration and as a violation of the contemporary Rules of Disparagement.

Those rules are not legislated, but they have grown from a more powerful force than law: public opinion. The basic principle, briefly stated, is that you can use insulting language only about groups of which you are a member. There are, as usual, exceptions, which we will get around to. But first the basics.

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Thus, African-Americans can freely use the coarsest and vilest language about black people among themselves, but white people are ill-advised to play with racial stereotypes, as Tea Party Express leader Mark Williams discovered in recent days.

Gay people may also use vulgar and offensive terms to one another that straight people had better not. Women too. I can, if I wish, be mordant about Appalachians on the strength of birth and upbringing, but you non-crackers can mind your manners. Obese people might chaff one another about fatness, but the lean look mean if they do so. Do you get the drift?

This is not law but good manners.

Nazis are a specialized case, and that language works this way. Grammar Nazi is an extension of the soup Nazi jokes popularized in an episode of Seinfeld. Jerry Seinfeld, like Mel Brooks and Zero Mostel, gets to make jokes about Nazis and Hitler. Gentiles, however, can steer clear.

Beyond specialized cases, there are the exceptions, the classes that everyone should feel free to disparage. The main such class is middle-aged white guys. They may have started to whine that they are victims, but look around and see who is still running business, industry, and government. If you want to enjoy money and power, then you can accustom yourself to the jeers of those who enjoy neither. Have at them.

*But I am not here to condemn so much as to help. If I deny you grammar Nazi, I can at least offer a constructive suggestion. How about grammar Prussian? Doesn't the image of an imperious, monocled, dueling-scarred Von with a spike on his hat suit the purpose admirably? Just remember: you heard it here.

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