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“It’s like when an insect makes a scent or something to get a mate from miles away,” says Monin.“They are kind of emitting this thing for someone else who is another linguistic snob to come over and say, ‘Oh yeah, I know, I hate it when people do that.’ And it’s like this weird matchmaking thing: ‘Here, come over here and grind your teeth with me if you think that’s horrible.’ ” Consider this note submitted to NPR a while back by an avid listener: “NPR’s journalists routinely use the word ‘decimate’ when they mean to denote ‘completely ruined or destroyed.’ ‘Decimate’ means to kill every tenth person or soldier as a means of mass punishment.“I suspect it goes the other way, also—that there’s a particular glee for the cranky person who thinks: ‘This guy went to Harvard and now writes at the , and yet I know better than him,’ ” he says.“There is a glee in upending people who are supposed to be superior to us—especially if we think it’s unfair that they are superior to us.“The way we evaluate our competence is relative to other people,” he says.“If I need to feel good about my language skills, one way that I could do that would be to give myself evidence that my language skills are awesome.Both Monin and Kurzban suggest that the status of the person making the correction relative to the individual who committed the perceived error typically plays a role.According to Monin—whose work examines how people respond in specific interpersonal situations to maintain or enhance their self-image—when individuals feel as though they have something to prove, either to themselves or others, language bullying is more likely to occur.
In the first case, someone of a higher status or position uses some advanced understanding in order to feel superior.
And who doesn’t smile broadly as Rodney Dangerfield’s Thornton Melon outwits the stuffy, bow-tied business professor during the climactic final examination scene in Those who use their advanced knowledge to embarrass or humiliate others are the absolute worst.
Yet, for whatever reason, language bullies don’t seem to get this, or they don’t care.
There is a thrill, that is, in being one of a select few who knows “the truth” about how to use a certain word. “And one reason to know it is because you know you are going to feel superior to everyone else.
There’s something that feels really good about realizing you’re in the know and everyone else is wrong.” But to take full advantage of that knowledge, language bullies must use it in a way that allows others to recognize and appreciate their possession of this advanced understanding.