Agnostic.com

Pedantry

By Fernapple 3 weeks ago

Meetings of the XXXX committee were perhaps not always enjoyable, but they were in there own way very satisfying. The only down-side being that they involved me in a long journey to London, which meant taking first a car and then two changes of train. Since everyone traveled a long way, there was always a lot of pressure on the time, and things were rarely completed as well as we would have liked. One day we were discussing a document which was to be sent out, but the debate got suck at a certain point for nearly an hour. One member in particular it seemed was deeply opposed to the publication, this was doubly annoying as the man was a consistent pedant who had wasted the committees time on many occasions before. Eventually we discovered that while he agreed with the document in principle, he disliked something that was said in the document, and no amount of persuasion would convince him to change his mind. Eventually however after long and protracted argument we managed to discover, that in fact he only objected to one particular word in the whole document. No one would perhaps have minded even this, but for the fact that when we asked him to explain what he thought was wrong with the word, it became plain that he did not know or understand the word, and that his objection was only based entirely on a simple misunderstanding of the word's meaning. On that occasion a little more pedantry may have been welcomed, such as using a dictionary before setting out.

We have all at some time been annoyed, and had our time wasted in this way by pedantry, even the sort which is not based on a lack of knowledge or a misunderstanding. Sometimes, as in this case, it was caused by an entirely innocent misunderstanding, but frequently it is by linguistic pedantry alone. Indeed we would probably have got to the bottom of the matter a lot quicker on this occasion, had we not been expecting yet another example of this man's common failing, and since he was well educated we had never anticipated a expected a blind spot in his knowledge, on the definition of a fairly common word.


If however, the pedants work was only limited to making a nuisance of themselves on the odd committee here and there, then there would be no great harm done; but unfortunately this is not the case by any means. Pedantry of this sort, is only a small visible symptom of a far greater evil which has far greater and wider consequences.

For not all pedantry is a harmless perfectionism about the niceties of spelling and grammar, it can be and frequently is a deep seated attitude of mind. The first and most unhappy victim being of course the pedants themselves. For pedantry is little more than the worship of culture as a pseudo-god, which can happen even among those sceptical enough to doubt literal gods. The pedant is the poorest and most totally lost of creatures, whose mind and personality have been completely overwhelmed and drowned by the culture within which they live. So much so that even their cultures most superficial and mechanical expressions, such as its vocabulary, represent to the pedant not poor tools, assembled by the accidents of history, to hopefully serve humans in communicating their ideas, but are seen as being in themselves meaningful repositories of deep and significant truths. And this is of course forgivable, because culture is a powerful thing, well able to crush a humans reason.

In consequence the pedant becomes quite unable to ever question received ideas, and inevitably becomes the most narrow minded and tribal defender of just that culture, in the end promoting the terrible falsehoods of that culture rather than thought, as the ultimate repository of truth. Serving, worshiping, and endlessly promoting, the very thing which has trampled on and crushed into oblivion their understanding and all the better parts of their humanity. But in so doing the pedant also sets custom and culture above humanity, for the intellectual parasites which we call, cultures, are in the end merely mechanical devises, they weep no tears for those they have infected, nor do dictionaries have consciences.

Then soon conformity becomes a habit and a religion to be spread as far and wide as maybe, in all spheres of life. It may seem an extreme thing to say, and it does even to me, but if you think about it for a little while, the truth of it will soon become apparent, that the pedants hand can be seen to some degree, in all the evils that human culture inflicts upon the poor and oppressed of the world. Not a strand of barbed wire is strung, but the pedant has a hand in the tensioning, and pedantry is the language in which the secret policeman's orders are written, authored by the pedant, are the numbers given to the nameless, and the cries and pleas of the lost are never heard in the pedants cold reportage. For at the bottom of all those evils, is the one idea that some people can be deprived of their humanity, and the source of that idea is the thought that. “They do things differently.” And that that is enough to condemn.

Don't get me wrong, if you wish to set high standards for yourself, at least if makes you happy to do so, then I will praise your precision and your dedication more than anyone. I love the innocence of the spelling pedant. Even more so if you choose to set those standards in thought, morality or service, for no one can do all things to a point of excellence and to choose one thing, must always be to neglect another, therefore please let it be the most worthwhile thing that you can find, and failure to find something better is the other great sin of the pedant. I think that in the end it is good however in the words of a wise lady that I know, to:- “Expect much of yourself and little of others.”

In the end, however much my ideas above may seem immoderate, then you must forgive me a little for it is only a matter of some thirty short years, since nearly an hour of my time was wasted in pointless debate, over one little word, and it is hard indeed to let go of an hour, or forgive.

Note: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of this website or its members.

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3 comments

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0

I care little for 'cultural norms', but would you say that pedantry is a benefit to Critical Thinking (i.e words matter) ?

Yes they do mater and as a means of communication they have to be as exact as possible. To quote myself in the article. "if you wish to set high standards for yourself, at least if makes you happy to do so, then I will praise your precision and your dedication more than anyone." My post is really about not making pseudo gods out of them, which means thinking that they are sources of truth on their own.

1

That's the word for which I've beeen searching. Thank you for the wonderful read.

2

I've been called a pedant innumerable times in my life because, as a teacher, I like being through in my explanations. I also often excuse myself for being pedantic when I know my explanation will be too long but, in my opinion, necessary.

In your opinion, how can one give a through explanation without falling prey to pedantry?

As stated. "if you wish to set high standards for yourself, at least if makes you happy to do so, then I will praise your precision and your dedication more than anyone." Indeed if the person used as an example in the first paragraph had, as I say, used more pedantry at the begining the problem would not have occurred Precision is not pedantry or not as I am using the word in this article, which is not being exact, but rather failing to be aware of what is relevant and what is not, and therefore confusing cultural norms with truth.

It is perhaps very much the same thing as, believing that words have meanings not usuages. (Though there is more to it than that.)

@Fernapple I care little for 'cultural norms', but would you say that pedantry is a benefit to Critical Thinking (i.e words matter) ?