Most people use the term ‘pedant’ in a derogatory way, usually in reference to someone they perceive as being too fussy or too strict about rules.
On the occasions when I have been called a “grammar pedant”, I have generally responded as though someone is paying me a huge compliment. I invariably say something like “Oh stop it, you flatterer!” or “One day you’ll say that like it’s a bad thing!”
As a lover of the English language and words in general, there are things to we should be paying careful attention. There is value in pointing out where a student needs an apostrophe or a comma in their writing, or where they can express an idea or key point of information more clearly. That is part of being a teacher. It’s my job.
However, I try to restrain myself from correcting people’s grammar on social media, though, for two reasons:
- I don’t have time. I have a life to live, and I need sleep to function.
- They tend not to like it much.
What many people don’t know is that the word pedant was actually derived from the world of teaching and education. It came to English from either the Italian word ‘pedante’ or from its descendant, the later Middle French word pédant, both of which referred to a schoolmaster or teacher. It may be one of those words that came into English from more than one source. The Italian word is derived from the Latin word paedagogantem, which is the origin of the words pedagogue and pedagogy, which are also related to teaching and education.
By the late 16th century, though, the English were using the term in a negative rather than a neutral way. ‘Pedant’ had already come to be used for one who placed undue emphasis on the minor details of learning, or someone who focused on details or technicalities instead of looking at overall issues or taking a wider view of general learning and practice.
In that sense, correcting someone’s grammar on social media when it is clearly not appreciated is being unnecessarily pedantic. Perhaps that is the distinction that really needs to be made.
Alternatively, it might be a somewhat uncomfortable yet valuable opportunity to improve both one’s learning and professional credibility in an age where prospective employers and customers look at social media profiles before deciding to give a job or order to a particular person. This is particularly true for anyone who should be reasonably expected to have a sound grasp on the language, such as teachers, writers, bloggers and professionals who rely on clear communication in their work.
Let’s face it. I may not care if someone misspells an uncommon word, or one they’ve only heard and not read, but if they don’t bother to differentiate between ‘your’ and ‘you’re’ on social media, I’m neither going to buy their book, nor hire them to write my copy or teach my kids.
Apologetic? Not one bit.
Reference: Online Etymology Dictionary
Pedant vs. TeacherTweet
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