Is There Such a Thing as a Lowercase "nazi"?

Inspired by an exchange on Facebook.

An editor friend posted a completely appropriate rant about the use of non-words such as "conversate" and "orientate", which some poor misguided people have created as backformations from "conversation" and "orientation" instead of using the perfectly good words "converse" and "orient." These people are very wrong.

In the ensuing discussion someone referred to her as the "grammar nazi."

After contributing the equally grating "administrate" to the list of nonwords to be avoided, I added this:

I'll also put in a plug for not misusing the word "Nazi". I lived in North Idaho where the neo-Nazis were; they chased and shot at acquaintances of mine simply because their car backfired near the compound, burned crosses, and held parades. They lost the compound in the resulting lawsuit after the shooting incident, thank heavens.

There's the real thing, and then there are people who are sticklers for one thing or another, whether it's soup (a la Seinfeld) or grammar. I'm a stickler for not using a word that means killing 6 million people to refer to people who have certain rules they follow because that diminishes the impact of the word when applied to the real thing.
To which someone responded:

I think the misunderstanding here with the use of the word "nazi" should be recognized thusly: "Nazi," with an uppercase N, refers to a group of people in Germany prior to and during the Second World War, who were acting out orders from a lunatic because they were cowards. In constrast, "nazi" with a lowercase n, refers to a group of people for whom rules an regulations are of utmost importance in a given subject.

Hence, "Hitler's Nazis" refers to genocidal maniacs and their pawns, and "grammar nazi" refers to a person for whom proper grammar, spelling, and syntax are of utmost importance and value.
It's the difference between a proper noun and a common noun.

You're welcome.
(As a professional editor I'll overlook the potential connotations of "You're welcome" and just address the underlying issue.)

I get the difference between proper nouns and common nouns. There are Democrats and democrats, Socialists and socialists, Stoics and stoics.

But are there really Nazis and nazis? Wasn't what the National Socialist German Workers' Party (its real name) did so utterly horrifying that we can't lowercase it and diminish the impact of its real meaning in historical context? I am a stickler for grammar most of the time but definitely not interested in being referred to as a lowercase nazi.


  1. I am so thrilled to see a fellow local take on this debate! I will openly admit to frequently nit-picking over what in today's age of social media seems to be a grammar/spelling crisis of epidemic proportions. "They're, their, there," I coax myself, "it must get better..."
    All joking aside, however, use of the word Nazi within any context other than to describe the group of people behind the horrific events that occurred before and during WWII or the group of white supremacists who continue to terrorize our country today, is blatantly offensive to me. I've laughed at classic episodes of Seinfeld. I've chuckled at jokes and comments, and I've even probably used the word myself. It just doesn't sit right with me, though, particularly after living as an observant Jewish woman in northern Idaho and eastern Washington for almost nine years now. As a lover of all things linguistic and grammatical, I am certain other words could be used to carry out the message actually intended when talking about "a group of people for whom rules and regulations are of utmost importance in a given subject." It is not, after all, merely the difference between a proper and common noun; it is perpetuating and misrepresenting a message of hatred, violence, and terror. (Yes, I do like the Oxford comma!)

  2. Michelle,

    Oh, yay, another fan of the Oxford comma!

    And I'm glad to hear you agree. We so easily become sloppy in our speech, particularly if whatever history a term might represent isn't "our" history, that we forget the real power words have.

    The old "sticks and stones" chant our mothers taught us? That was to help us survive the playground, not some kind of immortal truth, because words DO hurt us. Yes, we give them that power over us, but that's the same power of the storyteller at the campfire, the power of all great poetry and all love songs, and it's real.

    In a related vein, a member of a LinkedIn group I'm in asked if people really remember the origins of the phrase "drink the Kool-Aid", which is also used casually. That and the lovely racist/sexist "open the kimono" were included in a Forbes article making fun of corporate jargon:

    He thought that if people recognized the origins they might be less inclined to use the phrase. I don't know; I find some get uncomfortable when you make them look straight at what they're doing and give it actual thought.

    When I was younger I used to be told (usually by my dad, actually) that I was "oversensitive" for some of my reactions to language choice. I think I'm better at being diplomatic in discussing why I might think a term should be left behind, but I no longer worry that I'm oversensitive; some people are just UNDERsensitive.

    Thanks for commenting.

  3. Ack! It's the evil orientate and it's evil past tense form orientated. As in "I done been orientated already before." Man, I don't miss hearing that.

    Nazi, nazi, & drinking the Kool-Aid can all be retired.


Comments are like karma. The more you give, the more you receive. (Spam is like karma too.)