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Grammarnazis, feminazis and real Nazis

Why hate groups aren’t opportunities for portmanteaus

By: Zoe Strickland
Managing Editor

There have been many times in my life, in both formal and informal settings, where I or someone around me have been called a word that has been combined with the word ‘Nazi.’ These portmanteaus, words that join the meaning of two other words, are often viewed as being harmless ways of communicating that someone is excessively passionate about something. The most common examples of portmanteaus in this context are either ‘grammarnazi’ or ‘feminazi.’

Though they’re often viewed as being harmless, tacking ‘Nazi’ on to other words is a big deal. By doing so, people are trivializing the perpetrators of a major historical event, while also making a mockery of those with negative ties to the Holocaust.

As of 2016, Time magazine reported that there were about 100,000 Holocaust survivors still alive. The dwindling number of survivors “puts the responsibility on us, the next generation, the children of survivors, the grandchildren of survivors, to become as articulate as we can be in maintaining this memory and the mandate that comes with it,” said Michael Zank, the director of the Elie Wiesel Center for Jewish Studies at Boston University, in a July 2016 interview with Time.

Even if someone isn’t a relative of a holocaust survivor, it’s still important to help cultivate the history of the Holocaust. Borrowing terms, especially ones that relate to anti-semitism, results in the exact opposite happening. Rather than acknowledging the damage that was done to various groups of people, it erases the events to make room for the comparatively minute, everyday intolerances.

Using the word ‘Nazi’ as a way of getting a point across won’t actually do any good. It just makes the user look uneducated, and somewhat intolerant to the passions of others. In this case, either the conventions of a language or equality for both genders, respectively.

As someone who enjoys being passionate about things and also has a family history of relatives who were deeply affected by the ramifications of the Nazi regime, I’ve always been perplexed by why the usage of the word Nazi to refer to things besides the aforementioned regime has been accepted into the cultural canon. I’m someone who naturally tries to look at things from different perspectives, but I can’t seem to understand the perspective that has room for this type of insult. I don’t understand how someone can even begin to draw the connection between a feminist and a Nazi, or an eloquent person and a Nazi. This could be an overreaction; but being called something that’s associated with such a revolting line of thought doesn’t sit well with me. It never will.

Yes, society likes to label people who annoy them. And no, besides the obvious connection to acting like you’re on a playground, there’s nothing wrong with that. People, especially in Western culture, like to have vocal outlets where they can express their dislike of something. My beef isn’t with needing a word to describe frustration. My problem lies with the words that are being used.

Why does annoyance or dislike have to translate into words that literally reference the genocide of Jews, POWs, LGBTQ+ people and the disabled, amongst other groups? I’ve yet to hear a Nazi portmanteau that’s warranted. If people insist on using ‘Nazi’ to elevate their feelings, they need to properly understand the weight that the term holds. We aren’t talking fake bra burning and homophones, we’re talking gas chambers and being killed in front of your family.

Even if someone is trying to convey a deep hatred towards a group of people, there’s just no practicality to doing it this way. Frankly, piggybacking on a completely unrelated term like ‘Nazi’ is cheap. If you’re going to slam a group for wanting equal rights or promoting proper grammar usage, at least use something that will match the wit that they’re trying to promote. That being said, it’s useless to create terms like these at all. Let’s be real, getting called a ‘grammarnazi’ isn’t going to prevent me from educating people on the proper form of there, their and they’re. It’s just going to make me more zealous about the topic at hand.

Rather than shutting down someone for their beliefs, why not start a dialogue with them? An even better option than immediately slamming someone for their beliefs is actually hearing what they have to say. Rather than shutting things down with a cheap insult, people can promote a more understanding society by actually attempting to understand the point-of-view of others.

The mass murder of millions of people isn’t something that should be trivialized by insensitive misuse. Almost everyone has heard stories by holocaust survivors about what they’ve had to go through. Even if someone’s ancestry wasn’t directly affected by the Nazi regime, they’ve heard the stories. They know about what happened. By using the word ‘Nazi’ to mean things that it doesn’t mean, people are making a joke of something that isn’t funny. The massacre of any group of people isn’t funny.

I’ve always been told to practice what you preach, so if you want to start a dialogue about this, email me.

Contact the author at zstrickland14@wou.edu