Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Wordplay - pedantry

Samuel Johnson's dictionary 3rd edition 1766 defines pedantry as:

Awkward ostentation of needless learning.

I like the neatness of Johnson's definition, but pedantry is also one of life’s many tactics, a way of attacking change, of closing down other possibilities beyond the status quo. It is a way of being right without really trying, a way of analysing without contributing, a way to harass without having to engage.

But perhaps it is also a way of avoiding errors, going back to what we know rather than wandering off into a desert of colourful but sterile possibilities. As with many of life’s tactics, pedantry has two edges – constructive and destructive. Which is the most common though?


Mark Wadsworth said...

The positive side. Where would we be if nobody cared about actual hard facts any more?

Grammar pedantry on the other hand is just a harmless sport, the correctee is perfectly entitled to admit that he made a mistake.

A K Haart said...

MW - facts aren't actually hard though and writers usually advise you to boldly go for the best sentence rather than the grammatical one (:

Sam Vega said...

I suspect it is getting rarer, as academic "book learning" declines and the functions you refer to are taken over by adherence to procedures and received internet wisdom. 'Elf and Safety, E&D, Aims and Objectives, Project Management, and so forth.

I suspect that one day, we will look back on even the most mean-spirited forms with nostalgia.

A K Haart said...

SV - yes, I'm not classing proper scholars as pedants here. But as you say, where have they all gone?