“Grammar Nazis who are also regular Nazis”

There are hints here and there in IJ (mostly tucked away in the bowels of the footnotes) that not only is Avril Incandenza a Quebecker leftish revolutionary but that she might also be a for-real Grammar Nazi.  Like full-on “Nazi who copy-edits Mein Kampf” Grammar Nazi.  The hints are dropped in real subtle-like throughout the text, but if you’ve read DFW’s “Authority and American Usage” essay you know that this isn’t an accident and that he very well means something by this.  Look at these passages from what we’ve read so far as well as some additional footnoteness:

page 95:

Tuesday, 3 November, Enfield Tennis Academy: a.m. drills, shower, eat, class, lab, class, class, eat, prescriptive-grammar exam, lab/class, conditioning run, p.m. drills, play challenge match, play challenge match, upper-body circuits in weight room, sauna, shower, slump to locker-room floor w/ other players.

page 987:

Union of Theoretical Grammarians in Cambridge. B.S. Meniscus Films, Ltd. Documentary cast; 35 mm.; 26 minutes; color; silent w/ heavy use of computerized distortion in facial close-ups. Documentary and closed-caption interviews with participants in the public Steven Pinker-Avril M. Incandenza debate on the political implications of prescriptive grammar during the infamous Militant Grammarians of Massachusetts convention credited with helping incite the M.I.T. language riots of B.S. 1997. UNRELEASED DUE TO LITIGATION

page 995:

Syntax sic, which had helped drive Mrs. Avril Incandenza — her Op-Ed letters and formal complaints apparently ignored at every political level — to help found the Militant Grammarians of Massachusetts, ever since a bramble in the flank of advertisers, corporations, and all fast-and-loose- players with the integrity of public discourse — see sub.

page 996 (courses at E.T.A., in reference to Pemulis’s schooling on page 154):

Viz. Prescriptive Grammar (Grade 10), Descriptive Grammar (11), Grammar and Meaning (12).

page 1021:

[110]c. I.e., the Militant Grammarians of Massachusetts, a syntactic-integrity PAC Avril had put together with two or three very dear friends and colleagues around metro Boston.

page 1039:

‘The criteria I was analogizing to The Stork is does the Moms function. And the Moms functions and then some. The Moms careers through the day turboed and in fifth gear. You’ve got the assorted Deaning at E.T.A. You’ve got the full teaching load there. You’ve got accreditation reports and structuring both quadrivium and trivium three years ahead of time at the start of every year. You’ve got writing prescriptive linguistics books that come out every thirty-six months so you could set your watch by them. You’ve got grammatical conferences and conventions, which she doesn’t leave the grounds ever anymore but she’s there videophonically rain or shine for them all. You’ve got the Militant Grammarians of Massachusetts, which she co-founded with a couple quote cherished academic friends, also bats, where the M.G.M.s for instance go around to Mass, supermarkets and dun the manager if the Express Checkout sign says 10 ITEMS OR LESS instead of OR FEWER and so on. The year before The Mad Stork’s death the Orange Crush people had an ad on billboards and little magazine-fall-out cards that said CRUSH: WITH A TASTE THAT’S ALL IT’S OWN, with like a possessive IT’S and I swear the M.G.M. squad lost their minds; the Moms spent five weeks going back and forth to NNY City, organized two different rallies on Madison Avenue that got very ugly, acted as her own attorney in the suit the Crush people brought, never slept, never once slept, lived on cigarettes and salad, huge salads always consumed very late at night, the Moms has a thing about never eating until it’s late.’

Also note that Canelli definitely noticed the prescriptive grammar thing, too.

Again, DFW knew exactly what he was saying when he used the term “prescriptive grammar” in IJ.  I mean, just look at the text on page 154 and its accompanying footnote 54!  That’s totes “Authority and American Usage.”  I believe he’s signaling to us a (not-so) subtle characterization of Avril Incandenza: she is a Grammar Nazi.  I leave it as an exercise for the reader to prove that she is also a regular Nazi.

PostScript: Of course, I mentioned this to Amanda last night like I’d made some fantastical discovery, but she’s all like, “Well, yeah, of course.  You didn’t notice this the first time you read the story?”  No.  No I didn’t.


  1. Luigus

    I have the sense that Amanda would read all of our posts about IJ with a “well yeah, duh” response. Kudos to her brilliance.

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