Printable Version
Pronunciation: pê-dæn-tik Hear it!

Part of Speech: Adjective

Meaning: 1. Paying undue attention to petty, irrelevant details, characterized by nit-picking, especially in teaching. 2. Flaunting education or erudition, pretending to be more highly educated than is the case.

Notes: Today's adjective is derived from the noun pedant which originally meant simply "teacher", but has since come to refer to teachers pejoratively. Pedantry is what keeps the pedant going from one pedantism (act or show of pedantry) to another. Should pedants gain control of the government, we would be governed by a pedantocracy. The political philosopher John Stuart Mill argued (On Liberty 1869) that governments must comprise people of all occupations ". . . if we would not have our bureaucracy degenerate into a pedantocracy." Apparently John Stuart was OK with bureaucracy.

In Play: The first sense of today's Good Word refers to a kind of pedagogical nit-picking: "I think it would be pedantic to specify how many buttons may be on shirts under the new dress code." The other side of today's word refers to someone too taken with their own education: "Sandy Eggo has been talking like a pedantic know-it-all since receiving her PhD in psychology."

Word History: Today's Good Word used to be French pédant, possibly from Vulgar (Street) Latin paeden(t)s, which would have been the present participle of paedere "to instruct". Although we have no written evidence of such a word, pédant came from somewhere and Greek had a verb paideuein "to bring up, raise, educate", based on pai(d)s "child". Latin often borrowed from Greek. We find several words beginning with P that are probably related to the Greek word for "child": Latin puer "boy" and paucus "few, little", the origin of Spanish poco "small, little". Since Proto-Indo-European [p] became [f] in Germanic languages like English, these words are probably related to English few. (Today we thank the unpedantically erudite mind of David Ross for coming up with today's childish Good Word.)

Dr. Goodword,

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