Feb 17 2009

Breaking! Commonly used word has different meaning than I thought

I had about 53 kittens when I made this astonishing discovery, but the truth will out: it has come to my attention that I have been using the word pedantic incorrectly all these years.

It turns out that pedantic denotes a massively different condition than I’d thought: “over-precise and supercilious.” What I’ve always intended to convey when employing pedantic is “authoritarian and supercilious.”

The Blame Agreement on the comments page will be corrected to reflect this momentous breakthrough in my grasp of the mother tongue.

The irony — that I myself may be accurately described as pedantic, ostentatiously bookish, and given to excessively subtle reasoning — is not lost on me.

That is all.


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  1. Claire (CJ)

    Twisty, if I had a dollar for every time I misused a word…

    No worries. We all knew what you meant.



  2. PhysioProf

    Looking at the early usages in the OED, the notion of authoritarianism–or at least the wielding of the power of status-based authority–appears to be part of the history of the word:

    B. adj.

    1. Pedagogic, schoolmasterly; of or relating to teaching. Obs.
    1628 W. PRYNNE Unlovelinesse of Love-lockes sig. b4, I neede not feare that Schoole-boyes breeching for them, which, some Pedantique Cl[e]rikes threaten to me. a1631 J. DONNE Sunne Rising in Poems (1633) 199 Busie old foole, unruly Sunne,..Sawcy pedantique wretch, goe chide Late schooleboyes. 1644 MILTON Areopagitica 22 When every..reader upon the first sight of a pedantick licence, will be ready with these like words to ding the book a coits distance from him.

    2. Of, relating to, or characteristic of a pedant; characterized by or exhibiting pedantry; exaggeratedly or absurdly learned.
    1631 T. GOFFE Raging Turke IV. vii. sig. K2v, You haue bin to me No Father, but a sowre Pedanticke wretch, One that with frosty precepts, striu’d to kill The flaming heate of my ambitious youth. 1633 T. CAREW Elegie Death Donne in J. Donne Poems 386 The Muses garden with Pedantique weedes O’rspread, was purg’d by thee. 1698 Protestant Mercury 8 June 2/2 A just reprimand..for his Foppish, Pedantick, Detractive and Petulant way of writing. 1759 A. SMITH Theory Moral Sentiments I. §iii. ii. 62 We grow weary of the grave, pedantic, and long-sentenced love of Cowley and Propertius, who never have done with exaggerating the violence of their attachments. 1788 T. REID Aristotle’s Logic vi. §1. 128 He was without pedantry even in that pedantic age. 1825 MACAULAY Milton in Edinb. Rev. Aug. 305 He does not..sacrifice sense and spirit to pedantic refinements. 1855 J. L. MOTLEY Rise Dutch Republic II. III. i. 108 Rather a pedantic than a practical commander, more capable to discourse of battles than to gain them. 1871 R. ELLIS tr. Catullus Poems lvii. 7 Bookish brethren, a dainty pair pedantic. 1906 J. GALSWORTHY Man of Property 183 When they danced..they bounded, twirling their partners at great pace, without pedantic attention to the rhythm of the music. 1993 Nature 28 Oct. 794/3 The book’s arguments are not well served by a somewhat pedantic writing style, too full of fancy words such as ‘evidencing’, ‘processual’,..and ‘juridicial’.

  3. Twisty

    Very funny.

  4. Kerry

    One of my favorite parts about the word pedantic has always been that if you’re someone who uses it, you kind of *are* it. So awesome!

  5. D.

    You say that like it’s a bad thing. (*grin*)

    We do not have to apologize for having a brain or a vocabulary. (I remember the advanced-degreed people I, er, hung around tendering me an awkward compliment about my use of a word little undegreed me had picked up from wide reading because they didn’t know it.)

    Signed, Another Proud Pedant

  6. Anna Belle

    LMAO. From one pedant to another, of course.

  7. yttik

    Twisty must be having fun with the term “mother tongue” because if there ever was such a thing, it was lost a long time ago.

    Language is so rooted in patriarchal notions, I often enjoy completely murdering it.

  8. Orange

    Yeah, yttik, I’m trying to assemble a list of patriarchally rooted language. I think it’s gonna be a long list, what with the words that shunt women to the side (chairman!), debase women (bitch), place women in particular positions (maid, mistress) that lack male equivalents in our language, and otherwise make it clear that man and woman are entirely different things and that human = man. Click the “Orange” link if you want to toss your favorite examples of gendered language my way.

    Pedants are annoying if they disagree with me but oh so right if they agree with me.

  9. norbizness

    “Pedantic? I never heard that word before I moved to IBTP.”

    “I don’t know why. It’s a perfectly cromulent word.”

  10. orlando

    Now do you think we can get the world back on track with decimated?

  11. derrp

    I always thought that when Twisty used the term Fucking Pedantic Asshole, it was the Fucking/Asshole part that indicated authoritarianism. To distinguish FPAs from other pedants.

  12. thebewilderness

    I think that it is too late for decimated to ever get back to one in ten.
    Believe, as a substitute for think, has been my pet peeve for the past thirty years.

    Now if I can just figure out how to start every comment with a word other than I. Criminy.

  13. Hedgepig

    Often when we start a sentence with I it’s because we’re saying “I think”, which is a shorthand for “I’m not claiming to be pronouncing The Truth, I’m giving my opinion.” Actually, I often go back and put “I think” at the beginning of what I’ve written so I don’t sound too bossy. Is that effete of me? (I’m not going to do it to this one, I’m not, I’m not).

    And I agree with orlando, we need to stop decimating the English language by using decimate incorrectly.

  14. Nolabelfits


    Some years back I had a seasonal job as a maid in a wilderness hotel that had employees from all over the country. When we all were hired, we were generically assigned to “housekeeping,” and were then assigned to different areas. (Laundry, drivers, maids, etc.) Well, it turned out they had hired alot of dudes, and none of them wanted the maid jobs, because they all felt demeaned by being called maids, so to accomodate their egos the job title was officially changed to “Roomsworker.” An improvement perhaps, but of course it was done to accomodate the dudes.

  15. atheistwoman

    I think the word ‘pat’ronizing was what you were looking for? This, all in all, would be quite fitting if not necessarily ironic.

  16. orlando

    Nolabelfits, let me guess, none of the women got assigned to be drivers, mmmm?

  17. Nolabelfits


    You are absolutely correct.

  18. Twisty

    Hedgepig: “Often when we start a sentence with I it’s because we’re saying “I think”, which is a shorthand for “I’m not claiming to be pronouncing The Truth, I’m giving my opinion.””

    The thing is, it’s a given that whatever you write is your opinion, unless you are quoting or paraphrasing someone else, or otherwise referencing an outside source. There are exceptions, of course, but “I think” is almost always unnecessary, and can even dilute the strength of your argument.

    I stuck that little “don’t begin with ‘I'” suggestion in there to encourage commenters to focus on the issues rather than on themselves. I’m not against personal anecdotes, but they’re most effective when backing up a thesis statement.

  19. Lindsay

    Your apparent intolerance for pedantry had worried me, it’s true, but I took heart from the fact that you only prohibited “fucking pedantic assholes” from posting.

    While all fucking pedantic assholes are (necessarily!) pedants, not all pedants are fucking pedantic assholes.

    As it is a cherished article of faith with me that I am a pedant of the non-assholish variety, your prohibition on Fucking Pedantic Asshole commenters did not discourage me from lurking here, or even sometimes commenting.

  20. incognotter

    After we overthrow the P can we relieve “leisurely” of it’s recently acquired adverbial status?

  21. PhysioProf

    After we overthrow the P can we relieve “leisurely” of it’s recently acquired adverbial status?

    What’s the hurry?

  22. rootlesscosmo

    Hail the glorious worker-pedant united front!

  23. Orange

    If you look up “pedant” in the dictionary, it cites the example of giving a rat’s ass about current usage of “decimate” as the key deciding factor as to pedant vs. not pedant. True story!

    I think I was on a cruise this winter. Yes, I was. Anyway, most of the maids on our floor were men from India. The ship’s term for the folks doing that job was “stateroom host or hostess”—thank the good lord they kept that optional -ess around because we all know “host” is a super-macho manly-man title that can never be applied to a woman. Sounds like they sat in our cabins and invited us in for drinks, doesn’t it?

  24. VibratingLiz

    I think I was on a cruise this winter. Yes, I was.

    Cracked me up.

  25. orlando

    Rat’s arse, if you please.

  26. slythwolf

    I got nothing against pedantry, in moderation, as long as it ain’t pompous pedantry.

  27. Donna

    Twisty. I love you. Have been too uptight too mention it before. And, who knows, maybe it’s the wine speaking. But I really do.

  28. Kuleana

    May I have some of those kittens? My room is very cold, and they could help keep me warm at night. I promise I’ll take excellent care of them!

    Also, I was guilty yesterday of not knowing the difference between a spoke and a chain on a bike, despite the fact that I rode a bike almost every day during my childhood. I think I need a chaperone when speaking the English language. (Appropriately, I have just found out from Firefox that “chaperon” is the more accepted spelling of that word. Note, however, that I still do not use the more accepted spelling in context.)

  29. Gertrude Strine

    Tasty irony.
    Very funny.
    This font in the comments entry formbox is nauseating.

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