Grammar nazis who are communists

Doina Doru was a proof-reader for a state newspaper in communist Romania. As I'm sure you will remember, at the time the country was ruled by dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu – a notorious boor – who instituted a remarkable sense of orthographical paranoia in the media.


Ceaușescu's name was a cause of stress, according to Ben Lewis's book Hammer & Tickle. Mis-spelling "Nicolae" was sure to cause trouble, Lewis writes, because "Nicholai" meant "small penis".

Similarly, omitting one letter from "comrade" in Romanian gave you a misprint meaning "wicked convict", which nearly cost Doru her job. She recalls she was even summoned by the Securitate officer:


"He said, 'Look on the front page: you misspelt the word "comrade".' And I was questioned for several hours about the mistake. They asked me if I supported the Party, and then they interrogated all my colleagues – Did I ever say anything critical about the government or Ceaușescu?"
(in Ben Lewis, Hammer & TickleLondon: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2008)

Eventually the officer was persuaded that the misprint was a genuine error and not a subversive act, but it makes me thankful not to have to live in these conditions. In non-dictatorships, we are free to make mistakes and even to play deliberately with language. The people who are opposed to this freedom are hyperbolically referred to as "grammar nazis", but this pedantry may make them less likely to be taken seriously, not more.

Personally, I do not believe that a reign of terror based on grammatical correctness can work: the mockery it would provoke would overwhelm it. Under communism, there was a large store of surreptitious political jokes about the system, some of which are mentioned in an article to which I shall link.

Although I don't know Romanian, I suspect that the comrade/convict explanation was wrong in some way; I've looked up the words, and can't find one that differs by a single letter from tovarăş (comrade). As with "Nicholai", it seems too perfect, too neat a pun to be real. Can any Romanian-speakers enlighten me?