This cheerful Latin phrase literally translates to, “Cesar has no power over grammarians.” And while it’s original intent may be to describe all the natural limits imposed on a ruler, I will wholeheartedly take it out of context in order to explain why I like it.
I like it because it legitimizes a sort of boasting for my profession. It places us above the most powerful ruler in history. Sadly, however, this phrase is not true at all. It is not grammarians nor linguists who wield any power, but grammar, language and communication themselves.
Still, there is a kind of grammarian that will attempt to use his knowledge of language simply to show off. They will appear on internet forums, newspapers, and video-hosting websites, making belittling and disparaging comments about other users’ use of language. They will have collected a vast number of esoteric grammar rules like stones in a sack and will fling them at anyone who passes by, like a gang of hooligans.
They may have made a correction, but unless their correction was made to clarify the meaning of the original poster, the grammarian will have afforded nothing to the conversation. Furthermore, if no communication happens, grammar, and the grammarian, become utterly useless. I would tell those grammarians to get a life or get a job, but I am afraid they would start popping up in translation agencies, getting their filthy hands all over our documents.
The best professional linguists, in fact, do not show off, but rather toil in anonymity, in order to make meaning come through a page of text, in order to make communication work.
Let’s take for instance a highly regulated language, a language with a vast set of norms and stylistic recommendations: Spanish. La Real Academia Española is an institution which develops guidelines that are used to make Spanish understood by all Spanish speakers in over twenty countries across the globe.
According to the Academy, their aim is to preserve a cultured way of speaking, and they define this as a language that can be understood across any national, regional, and social barriers that may exist. In fact, after applying these norms and using grammar to correct documents, I often find that sentences become shorter, simpler, more efficient, more elegant, and, most importantly, they become universal. There is nothing flashy, nothing terribly clever about the whole process.
The idea of culture and cultivating means we are dealing with something that has a life of its own, whose preservation and growth depend on everyone. Something much bigger than any one person. The Queen’s English may be more English than the Queen’s, but without that language, I doubt the English nation would exist at all.