Field of Science

Grammar Nazi? Then you're probably an atheist!

If you're on a first date, how can you find out how religious your dating partner is without asking outright? Well, it turns out that you can just ask for their opinion on grammar

OKCupid is an internet dating site. Lovelorn individuals sign up and put in a little bio, filling in some responses to standard questions. All that adds up to a an unparalleled database for delving (and the best bit is that, as a private company, there's no bothersome ethics committees to navigate!).

They have a whole blog covered to it, squirrelling out all sorts of nuggets. The latest post is devoted to the surrogate questions you can put to your date in order to discover deeper truths about them.

So, it turns out, if you want to find out if your date is religious, you can just ask them "Do spelling and grammar mistakes annoy you?" As they report:

If your date answers 'no'—i.e. is okay with bad grammar and spelling—the odds of him or her being at least moderately religious is slightly better than 2:1.
As someone who is not himself a believer, I found it rather heartening that tolerance, even on something trivial like this, correlated with belief in God, although I should've figured out that religious people are okay with small mistakes. Next to intelligent design, what's a couple typos?
 But there's more. It turns out that last year they analysed the the writing level of individual's profiles, and compared that with religion and also how seriously the individual took religion.

What they found is shown in the figure. Atheists, agnostics, Buddhists and Jews were the most literate. Protestants and Catholics are the least.

I guess the respondents are all in the US, so this suggests a clear link between the dominant religion and illiteracy.

None of this will come as a surprise to readers of this blog. Last year, research by Darren Sherkat showed that fundamentalist beliefs are closely linked to poor verbal skills.

Now it's clear that these poor skills aren't a problem for them - at least not in a prospective mate!

Creative Commons License This article by Tom Rees was first published on Epiphenom. It is licensed under Creative Commons.


  1. Look, honey, I love you but:

    "All that adds up to a an unparalleled database"
    --> should not have "a"

    It is improper grammar.

    Seig Grammatik!

    Oooops, did I give it away? I promise I will still go to church with you -- but do I have to take communion?

  2. PS:
    (1) You may enjoy Stephen Fry's bit on language?

    (2) I am an atheist and people who are sticklers on grammar make me laugh. But then, I am not a 'natural' atheist. I wonder if people who were theists as adults but deconverted (like me), maintain their tolerance for 'mistakes'?
    -- wait, didn't I just correct your mistake above? I am so confused.

  3. I'll raise my hand here as an atheist grammar Nazi (grazzi?). My latest peeve is the misuse of "damn" when "damned" is called for (and yes, that's a preposition at the end of a clause). As in, "That's damn awful." ==> "That's damned awful." Also, 99.99% of uses of "goddamn" should be "goddamned."


  4. Seriously, though, the function of language is to _communicate_. And the clearest way to communicate is to follow and preserve the rules of grammar (songs and poetry somewhat excepted). Why this should be a philosophical issue or even philosophically-related is a mystery.


  5. But there's more. It turns out that last year they analysed the the writing level

    Those repeated words bug me.

  6. In my experience, the use of bad grammar is indicative of an intellectually lazy person. Which is also a trait of many (fundamentalist) theists.

  7. If I make a misteak (a "sin"), all I can do is look in the mirror and tell myself "Now that was stupid!" and give myself a dope slap. The caution that results is fairly thoroughgoing. The Christians, however, can get "forgiveness." And they need it in *SO* many ways...

  8. I been a paying member of college athletics site and message board for nearly eight years -- there are thousands of members. During this time, I have come to "know" many of the members quite well by virtue of their posting histories. There are approximately 10 members who are obviously atheists and whom are sticklers for grammar and punctuation. By the same token, there are about 10 members who are passionately religious -- their grammar and punctuation is, shall we say, sloppy. This probably correlates with level of edu-ma-cation. Don't you love anecdotal proofs?

  9. Heh heh well I'm glad you picked up on those couple of deliberately-repeated words in there!

    Also, meant to include this, just cos it's the best Downfall parody ever:

  10. @ J. A. LeFevre: You missed the grammar error that follows: it should be "individuals' profiles,"
    not "individual's profiles."



  11. Tom, your "link", was hilarious ! The irony of many of the comments here crack me up.

  12. Cris, you may have meant, "who" are sticklers for grammar.

  13. Nietzsche (or Niezsche if you are truly German) would be rolling in his grave if he saw this. I believe it was in Twilight of the Idols that he famously said, "I fear that we have not yet gotten rid of God because we have not yet gotten rid of grammar."
    If only he knew how that would be so openly contradicted two centuries later.

  14. Well, Mr. I-know-German,
    your hero actually said,

    ""Ich fürchte, wir werden Gott nicht los, weil wir noch an die Grammatik glauben…"


  15. @Sabio Lantz: Looks like I'm the opposite of you. I am a believer, and I'm quite a stickler for grammar. My books are the Old Testament, the New Testament, and Strunk and White's Elements of Style. Thou shalt not use an apostrophe where it doth not belong. (I even looked up to see whether it's doth or dost.) Yeah, I know. I'm a dork.

  16. This makes sense. After all:

    You SOUND like an idiot when you speak improperly.

    You ARE an idiot when you believe in a bunch of religious hooey.

    It's not a big stretch to notice that the two are related.

  17. "If you're on a first date, how can you find out how religious your dating partner is without asking outright? Well, it turns out that you can just ask for [their -incorrect-] his/her opinion on grammar."

    Or much better ...

    When you date, how can you find out how religious your dating partners are without asking outright? Well, it turns out that you can just ask for their opinions on grammar.

  18. @ Anonymous:

    You may be ripe for being an Atheist, if you looked up grammar errors! There is hope for you. But you won't be a nice atheist, just an angry bitter one. Smile

    BTW, instead of worrying about grammar, why not pay attention to blogging etiquette : never sign in Anonymous. Use a fake name or something so we can address each other non-ambiguously. Hmmm, style vs content: Is that hard for you black-and-white folks?

  19. The atheists I have been dealing with on message boards for the last 12 years are the stupidest, the most shallow, and the least literate people I've met in my life. Yes they are intolerant of spelling mistakes. but that's stupid. spelling is not indicative of intelligence. It's usually the result of dyslexia and most dyslexics have above average IQ's.

    Atheists on message boards know so little about literature that's why they have such dumb arguments about the Bible. They can't comprehend the concept of a literary device. More than once I have said "that's a metaphor" they say "it doesn't say it is."

    Not only do they know nothing about literature but they hate it. They say Philosophy is crap literature is just fantasy and science is the only knowledge.

    The atheists I meet on message boards are not literary at all, they are science geeks.

  20. I also find that atheists often don't know the difference between grammar and spelling and punctuation.

  21. In my opinion, there is a correlation between a pressing need for grammatical precision and mild forms of autism, such as Asperger's syndrome. Autism and Asperger's are also demonstrably linked to atheism, so the correlation between "Grammar Nazism" and atheism is not really all that surprising. I would make a joke here, but really, I have no sense of humor.

  22. Great graph, but it sure looks like the agnostics should be between the Jews and the Budds.

  23. I think that that this correlation stems from the peculiar demographics of atheism in the United States. In the US, most people are born into at least nominally Christian families. People who publicly identify as atheists are typically educated, liberal, scientific types who arrive at their atheism for intellectual reasons... it's unsurprising that they are more grammatical writers than your average Christian American.

    I think you would get different results if you looked at some ex-Soviet country where atheism is prevalent, and not really linked with education levels.


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