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ETpro's avatar

Why has pedantry fallen into disrepute?

Asked by ETpro (34550points) May 14th, 2010

Words do matter. Being exact in meaning is vital to reaching logical conclusions. I believe Bertrand Russel defined it well in saying, “PEDANT—A man who likes his statements to be true.”

Shouldn’t we all want our statements to be true? How do we expect to achieve that if we can’t even discuss what the words we use actually mean, or if we operate with the concept that each of us has the unalienable right to make up our own definition even if it is in conflict with what dictionaries say on the matter?

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20 Answers

gailcalled's avatar

Being clear and writing well has not fallen into disrepute with the people who value being clear and writing well.

There is a sub-culture (maybe it is peer-related or generated by texting and the need to move at the speed of light and obey every impulse) that likes to proclaim, “I’m dumb and proud of it.”

I keep comparing written English usage to software code. One missed punctuation mark and the coder is in trouble.

Blackberry's avatar

I try to live by this. Typically if I do not have an exact answer, in face to face conversation, I will start out “I feel…”, or “Maybe it could possibly be this way…”. Then I ask the other person what they think of it. This is in situations like religion and politics, but if I spout out some generic fact, it will be right because I would have already researched it.

ETpro's avatar

@gailcalled Excellent answer. I believe you are quite right.

@Blackberry Good strategy.

gailcalled's avatar

@ETpro: Henry Clay almost said, “I’d rather be right than quite right.”


syz's avatar

Hmmm. Is it not possible to be precise and clear without being pedantic? My understanding of the term has always been a more negative vibe.

“Pedantry is the dotage of knowledge” -Holbrook Jackson

ETpro's avatar

@gailcalled Nice collection of almost saids. :-)

@syz Pedantic has a negative connotation currently. It did not when the word came into use. And I wonder of some of the negative hasn’t attached to it over time as portions of society become intellectually lazy and express a disdain for logic and deep thought.

Strauss's avatar

@ETpro I believe (see there? I qualified!) that some of the disdain for pedantry might come from the tendency in this society to be egalitarian. Yes, some of it might be intellectual laziness, but a portion of the dislike might come from “working class” folks who traditionally had not been exposed to some of the “two-bit” words (such as “pedantry”). There might have been a perception of being “talked down to”, and a feeling that the person with a larger vocabulary felt he was “too good for common working guys”.

gailcalled's avatar

Etymology (from Wikipedia)

‘The English language word “pedant” comes from the French pédant(used in 1566 in Darme & Hatzfeldster’s Dictionnaire général de la langue française) or its older mid-15th century Italian source pedante, “teacher, schoolmaster”. (Compare the Spanish pedante.)

The origin of the Italian pedante is uncertain, but multiple dictionaries suggest that it was a contraction of the mediaeval Latin pædagogans, present participle of pædagogare, “to act as pedagogue, to teach” coined by a colleague of Harry Burt to describe his acquaintance (Du Cange).

The Latin word is derived from Ancient Greek παιδαγωγός, paidagōgós, παιδ- “child” + ἀγειν “to lead”, which originally referred to a slave who escorted children to and from school but later meant “a source of instruction or guidance”.’

Coloma's avatar

Words are nothing more than pointers, and those pointers, no matter how well expressed can never BE the experience of anything. Each person is operating 99% of the time from their own unique subconscious programming, filters, perceptions, therefore there can never be an ultimate one size fits all.

Strauss's avatar

@gailcalled I believe the word is also related to the root of “pedagogy”, which is the art and science of teaching.

The word “pedant” has had a more or less perjorative sense almost since its first use in English. According to Wikipedia (it must be true!) When Shakespeare used it in Hamlet it simply meant a teacher. But it wasn’t long before it started earning a bad reputation in literature .

gailcalled's avatar

@Yetanotheruser: I just spent a happy fifteen minutes sounding this out; παιδαγωγός =


Strauss's avatar

@gailcalled “Pie-Da-Go-Gaws”. You transliterated the omicron (ό) as a u. But that can’t be all bad, the Latins did that 2500 years ago as well!

tinyfaery's avatar

Because we (the US) care more about imperialism and the all mighty dollar than educating people. Should those who have no access to truth (whatever that means) just shut-up? I guess there is a reason why pedantic is a pejorative. No one likes an elitist; it’s not very democratic.

morphail's avatar

@gailcalled I’m not sure how you can say that this texting subculture is dumb and proud of it. Text messaging is not a new language, it’s not full of abbreviations, it’s not just used by kids, and it improves literacy.

ETpro's avatar

@Yetanotheruser & @gailcalled I am glad to see we have a few Pie-Da-Go-Gaws here. :-)

gailcalled's avatar

@Yetanotheruser: Isn’t it guess work when it comes to pronouncing the eta vs. epsilon, and the omicron vs. omega, and don’t get me started on the diphthongs. And the throat clearing for xi, chi, and psi..whole lotta spitting goin’ on.

@morphail: I took a look at the U. PA. paper. It was published in 2008 (data gathered in 2007) so hard to say what new studies would show. And there were a lot of different points of view from the commenters.

I am seeing a startling amount of illiteracy on many interactive web sites. That may be, indeed, atypical. But I am also hearing reports from my friends who teach college level English Language and Lit., history, psych, sociology, etc that their students. papers are often unreadable.

jeanmay's avatar

I think there is a general disdain attached to the idea of pedantry these days. I agree that grammar and spelling are important in communicating ideas, but depending on the context, not necessary. In friendly conversation with someone for whom English is not their first language, for example, I wouldn’t necessarily correct them, provided we appear to be in rapport. Other times, a good pedant, though annoying, can really help sharpen your thoughts and force you to compress your meaning.

I miss DarkScribe.

morphail's avatar

@gailcalled I don’t know what paper you’re referring to.

Of course you can believe what you want, but David Crystal is an expert and he’s actually done the research, and I trust that more than anecdotes.

gailcalled's avatar

@morphai: I am referring toDavid Crystal’s book (from your link above) as discussed by Ben Zimmer at in the link you posted. 46 people, all apparently literate in the traditional sense then commented on Zimmer’s comments on Crystal’s book (published in early 2008). Yes, no and maybe was the consensus.

It got mixed reviews on Amazon; some thought it was entertaining and easy-to-read, one person said it was too academic, and a really careful reader thought it was a novel. So much for clarity.

It would be interesting to have new research. There has been an explosion of texting since he wrote his books; he does make many interesting points, but I, the jury, am still out.

B uell. GAC

Strauss's avatar

@gailcalled I guess there is a little grey area between the eta/epsilon and omega/omicron pronunciations. By the way, isn’t the “phth” in diphthong a double diphthong? the mind boggles at the thought of a “double dipt thong”

@morphail I have no problem with textspeak within the context of texting. It is not a totally new phenomenon. Ham radio operators, because of the use of Mores code, developed a generally accepted shorthand style that migrated from Morse code to spoken language.

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