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Study: Grammar Nazis are Jerks

If you are one of those people constantly correcting other people’s grammar, you might not want to read this.
2 ½ min

We’ve all been in one of those Facebook conversations battles that involves words flying off our fingers almost as fast as the brain can process them.

When the battle turns nasty, we’ve likely been tempted, at one time or another, to demonstrate our intellectual superiority by mocking our counterpart’s poor grammar. (“Ha, you jackass! You used the wrong past participle with your irregular verb!”)

Well, maybe that’s something to avoid doing.

Researchers at the University of Michigan published a study concluding that grammar police have “less agreeable” personalities (re: they are dicks). You can read the entire study here, but be warned: it’s really long and pretty dense.

So here’s a quick overview via the San Francisco Chronicle:

For the experiment, 83 subjects were asked to peruse email responses for a roommate ad. Some contained no errors, but others had been altered to include simple common errors. For example, in some, "about" might have been written "abuot," and in other instances, "their" and "there," or "you're" and "your" might have been swapped incorrectly.

After subjects had looked over the emails, they were questioned first as to whether or not they noticed any errors, and if they had responded "Yes," they were asked to expand upon their answer.

As researchers found, those [who] were surveyed to be "less agreeable" were most bothered by the errors, while those who surveyed as having a "more agreeable" personality tended to overlook typos.

Basically, the study found, “grammar sensitive” individuals are more judgmental and less extroverted. This, in my opinion, is not exactly surprising.

What’s interesting about the study is that it basically ignored the social media aspect, an area I think would have been particularly interesting. The choice to exclude social media appears to be because the researchers concluded that the medium too closely resembled the way we speak, and might have resulted in more variance. Email, on the other hand, is a medium in which people tend to expect proper grammar (especially with a stranger seeking to live with you).    

Of course the first question for many readers will be: Where do I fit in here?

Speaking for myself, I have to say it’s kind of a tricky thing to answer. I have no idea of I’m unsure if I’d qualify as one of the “grammar police” or an agreeable person. On one hand, I hate typos (hate ‘em!). But when I stop and think about it, I realize I’m primarily concerned with typos in my own copy, not those of others. I have to admit, though, that if there are numerous mistakes I probably pass a bit of judgment.

Whether that makes me disagreeable or not, according to this particular test, is anyone’s guess. So I will say unto you, readers: Is anyone out there willing to make the case that he or she is a “grammar police officer” but also a highly agreeable person?



Jon Miltimore

Jon Miltimore

Jonathan Miltimore is the Managing Editor of His writing/reporting has appeared in TIME magazine, The Wall Street Journal, CNN, Forbes, Fox News, and the Washington Times.

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