The art of the pedant

According to my dictionary, a pedant is a person who makes an excessive or inappropriate display of learning, a person who over emphasises rules or minor details.  The word comes from the French pédant apparently or the even earlier Italian pedante, both referring to a teacher or schoolmaster (am I allowed to say master now or should I use Head Teacher?).  In common parlance though, it has come to mean someone who takes pleasure in showing another person up, who takes delight in catching you out over a slip of the tongue or an error in your logic.

A pedant is the kind of person who will point out that you cannot possibly buy a single panini as this is the plural of the word, just as you cannot by a single bread rolls, or that it cannot be a Roadshow if you only intend to visit one building. They are the kind of people who will pick up on a poster that claims 30% of the food we consume is wasted, when it cannot be consumed if it has gone to waste, or that criticises someone for asking how many people have been made redundant for disciplinary matters as you can only be made redundant if your position is no longer required.

After all this however, I must admit to having a grudging admiration for such people.  They are nit pickers, they are hair splitters, they put the chaff back on the wheat, they rub salt into your open sores, they poke your deepest drains with sticks and they play with your words like a linguistic cat’s-paw.  They feel a sense of schadenfreude in your mishaps, in making you feel awkward and somehow incompetent.  Their delight at your errors is palpable.

Like the use of sarcasm, pedantry is seen as a low form of wit by many but for me I think the opposite is more likely to be true. The ability to pick you up on the slightest error and twist it in the wink of an eye into a biting put-down shows a high level of intelligence and mental acuity.  The desire to be proven correct and the willingness to demonstrate it in its minutest detail even at the risk of being unpopular or sneered at, shows a level of confidence in their cognitive ability.  A true pedant recognises the skill of another but will redouble their efforts to catch the other out and be master over their pedantesque rival.

Could it be that a pedant’s need to correct constantly and viscously stems from a deep seated ennui and disdain for the situations in which they find themselves, a longing to have a more fulfilled and challenging experience?  Or is it all just a piece of entertainment at the expense of other less quick witted souls?

I have already confessed to my admiration of their skills and verbal dexterity and am concerned that perhaps this means after all that I am one myself.  I will seek help.

2 thoughts on “The art of the pedant

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