How does pedantry make you feel? Are you a current, reformed or relapsed pedant? Is there a pedant in your life?
Gentle reader: I don’t mean to be pedantish.* Over recent years, I have tried my best to wean myself off the darkly delicious temptations of pedantry. If Mr Cummings has not rendered the quarter-century old art of Pulp Fiction quotation too toxic, I might even say “I’m trying, Ringo, I’m trying real hard…”**.
I would like to think that I have made progress on the path of the righteous man away from excessive pedantry. Pedantry can be annoying (as my wife will attest).
As long as the intention behind a message is clear and is communicated effectively, does it really matter a fig if its expression is not 100% grammatically accurate?
But then life decides to test those who seek to pursue the path less pedantic.
To provoke a pedant
I have tried to ignore them for so long, but the other day, my pedant senses were sent a-tingling. As I walked to the train station to commence my commute, I was stopped in my tracks by a roadworks sign bearing the following words:
“These signals automatically modify there behaviour to best suite traffic conditions”
Ouch! The pedantry relapse risk was real. I took to social media to tweet out this provocation to pedantry. A number of lovely folks shared my pain.
The pedants strike back?
This signage prayed on my mind throughout the working day. I planned to take a selfie next to the sign on my return commute, to prove to Charlie that it was all too real. Imagine my surprise, then, to see on my journey home that the sign had been altered during the day!
At the risk of being pedantic, the split infinitive remained. But progress had been made.
Presumably peel-off letters had originally been used on this sign, and some passerby had decided that enough was jolly well enough. Yet questions remain… Who took it upon themselves to alter these words? Did the pedants strike back? Were the pedants revolting?
Pedantry in the wild
This is not the only instance of pedantry in the wild that I have seen. Some 18 months back, I tweeted about evidence left by a pedantic traveller at a railway station coffee stand.
What is the most notable instance of pedantry (or of provocation to pedantry) that you have ever seen in the wild? Please get in touch to let me know!
Undoubtedly guilty of pedantry
Is pedantry a sin? Can we pardon the pedantic? Dr Samuel Johnson explored the complexities of these questions in his essay on pedantry for The Rambler:
“Pedantry is the unseasonable ostentation of learning. It may be discovered either in the choice of a subject, or in the manner of treating it. He is undoubtedly guilty of pedantry, who, when he has made himself master of some abstruse and uncultivated part of knowledge, obtrudes his remarks and discoveries upon those whom he believes unable to judge of his proficiency, and from whom, as he cannot fear contradiction, he cannot properly expect applause.”
Yet pedantry was not always unpardonable for Dr Johnson. Indeed, the excessive avoidance of pedantry has its own risks, he argues:
“It is as possible to become pedantic by fear of pedantry, as to be troublesome by ill-timed civility.”
Love it or hate it, pedantry is here to stay. We must each find our own way to live with the pedantry in this world.
Back in November 2017, Jane Furniss put forth an ingenious solution. Why can’t we make peace with pedantry, by allowing charities to profit from it? Jane proposed a sort of pedantry pass. This would be a charitable payment (or fine) for those in the legal profession who wish to be pedantic. She suggested that it join the #HumbleBrag payment (or fine), a light-hearted levy that forms part of the excellent fundraising activities of Sean Jones QC‘s excellent #BillableHour campaign. With #BillableHour 2019 on the horizon, could the pedantry pass idea be resurrected and enforced?
What’s your take on pedantry?
How does pedantry make you feel? Are you a current, reformed or relapsed pedant? Is there a pedant in your life? What is the most notable instance of pedantry in the wild that you have ever encountered? I would love to hear from you! Please leave a comment below, or tweet me: @mjcarty.
- Please visit the #BillableHour website or check out the hashtag and consider giving generously to this excellent cause.
UPDATE (Tuesday 24 September 2019): Of octothorpes and punctuation
Today has brought not only seismic news from the UK Supreme Court, but also a fabulous run of punctuation-related tweets that I hope will prove of interest for anyone reading this pedantry-related post. The excellent Helen Reynolds*** decided to mark the occasion of #NationalPunctuationDay in tweet form (my thanks to Helen – or Relen – for her kind permission to reproduce these here).
Helen (or Relen) kicks off with a tweet about the secret origins of what is widely referred to as the hashtag symbol…
…next, hyphens. Specifically the crucial difference between the en dash and the em dash (I actually knew about this one – a highly useful insight picked up over my years in the editorial world)…
…Helen (or Relen) then moves on to commas…
…then takes a short diversion into the world of the @ symbol…
…before concluding with a call to the pedants of this parish to consume more coffee and contribute fully to #NationalPunctuationDay! To any pedants reading this – please assist Helen (or Relen) in this matter! Please also check out her blog post to mark this great day, entitled Punctuation: five fun facts.
* Yes, I know, really! I am quoting here Peter Serafinowicz’s excellent pedantry-related Twitter joke from nigh on a decade ago. Regard:
** Here’s the tale of Dominic Cummings’ attempt at Pulp Fiction paraphrasing. And here is the sequence from Pulp Fiction with my own Ringo-related quotation.
I am truly amazed that Pulp Fiction is very nearly a quarter of a century old (a quick Google reveals that the UK release date was Friday 21 October 1994). I went to see it at a midnight screening on the morning of its release. I recall that Pulp Fiction came with a short support feature on its original cinema release, a brief and bizarre Kirk Douglas-related animated film. The magic of the modern Internet age reveals that not only did this film genuinely exist, but that it was entitled The Big Story… AND it can be viewed on YouTube. Does anyone else out there recall seeing this wee short film prior to Pulp Fiction? Please get in touch and let me know!
*** Or “Relen Heynolds”, as she has spooneristically (and perhaps only temporarily) renamed herself at the time of writing. See this tweet for the full background information on this, including the role played by one “Joris Bohnson”.
- Roadworks signage photography by our roving reporter MJCarty.
- Samuel Johnson portraiture via Wikimedia Commons.