How My Grammar Nazi Mom Taught Me to Think

I grew up with a grammar Nazi. I called her mommy. In my household, a day would not go by without phrases like, “I don’t know, ‘can’ you?” “You mean, ‘My friend and I,” and “Did you mean ‘was’ or ‘were’? How many ‘was’ there?” ringing through the house. You might’ve also noticed that a certain condescending sarcasm accompanied most of the grammatical corrections that came my way. My regular readers now understand where I’ve gotten all of my style from. (<Is that a preposition at the end of that sentence?!?!?)

These daily corrections were, at the time, some of the most galling, life-sucking, and down-right vomit-inducing interactions I experienced in my short life. (Which also speaks to how awesome my parents were… this is the worst I dealt with! {<Again?!?!?!})

However, looking back I am very grateful for these nearly constant corrections. Checks on my grammar, ensuring that my subject matched my verb, that my word choice was precise, and my intent was clear, helped me to do one thing quite well: think.

I believe very few people these days really know how to think. The simple skill of recognizing a logical argument and an illogical one begins with simply thinking. The first three laws of logic would go a long way to solving our world’s problems if they would simply be employed on a more regular basis.

For example, I had a conversation with a friend, around the time the #metoo movement was gaining steam and many Hollywood figures were being accused of sexual misconduct, who could not understand how I logically concluded that truth is objective, not subjective.

She was contending for the common, but waning, idea that “my truth” can be different from “your truth,” and that such outdated ideas as “the truth” need not be clung to. Shortly thereafter, she was claiming that it is “just plain wrong” for the people in Hollywood to perpetrate all of their sexual misconduct on their victims.  I agreed with her that the people in Hollywood who were raping and assaulting one-another were entirely in the wrong, but pointed out that she had no basis for making such a claim. They were just living out “their truth,” a truth which, simply put, says, “I want sex from people and I will take it. Who’s to say I’m wrong?”

Such clear, and I would say quite basic, statements about the nature of reality, she found quite puzzling, and explained to me that I “simply didn’t understand” what she meant by “my truth.” I said it was my truth not to understand her and she was being intolerant for trying to correct me, at which point we changed the subject.

I realized, however, that this sort of simple, 1+1=2, two opposite ideas can’t both be true in the same way at the same time, A does not equal B, straightforward thinking, was simply not taught to her before. She fit perfectly into the mold Lewis described in The Screwtape Letters. “Your man has been accustomed, ever since he was a boy, to have a dozen incompatible philosophies dancing about together inside his head. He doesn’t think of doctrines as primarily ‘true’ or ‘false’, but as ‘academic’ or ‘practical’, ‘outworn’ or ‘contemporary’, ‘conventional’ or ‘ruthless’. Jargon, not argument, is your best ally in keeping him from the Church.”

In my case, I have been accustomed ever since I was a boy, to think about what I’m saying and ask myself, “Is that correct?” or in a deeper sense than I realized as a boy, “Is that true?”

When I ask if I “can” be excused from the table, am I really asking if I am physically able to stand from my chair, and walk away from my current location, or am I asking for permission to do so? Of course, I am really asking for permission. And so, I should use the words “May I be excused?” because that is actually the correct, the true, question.

What I’ve realized is that my grammar Nazi mother, with her grammar Nazi ways, was one of the many things in my life and upbringing that helped me to think about what I say and to assess its validity.

My grammar Nazi mother taught me to understand objective truth, and I couldn’t be more grateful.

So the next time your sitting around asking what the write thing too do is, asking yourself if dangling participles and ending sentences with prepositions is good or if truth is subjective, just remember that the grammar Nazi’s are their two help you think and communicate clearly, and thats the truth you should go with.

Cheers to the grammar Nazi moms. May we see more of them than ever before!

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