Us translators and wordsmiths are all pedants!

Are teachers pedantic?

The answer to this question is obviously yes. Why? Because I say so! I can hear a few groans from some of you. Who is this pedantic person? Teachers are not pedantic. Yes, they are. I can say that knowingly and I can prove it. I know that most of you don’t know the origin of the word “pedant” or of the adjective “pedantic”.

This word is French

Pedant comes in fact from the French “Pédant”, which comes from the Italian “pedante”, meaning “teacher, schoolmaster”. It probably comes from the Latin (Late Latin) “pedagogans” (present participle from the verb “pedagogare”). I can imagine what you are thinking. This is where the word “pedagogue” originates. Correct. But, and it is a big but, originally, a pedagogue was not a teacher of children. Far from it. In the late XVIth century, a pedagogue was somebody who “was trumpeting the minor points of learning”. Think of the word “Demagogue”. Same suffix.

Positive to negative and negative to positive

Here we are. Whereas the word “pedant” has now a negative meaning, although it started very positively, the word “pedagogue” travelled in the other direction. It started with a negative meaning and is now used to describe somebody who is very good at teaching children.

Government by pedants

There is another word belonging to the same family of words: pedantocracy. It was coined by John Stuart Mill, around 1859, in of his most famous philosophical book: On Liberty. It means “Government by pedants”. No teachers in there. Personally, I think that quite a few countries are in a “pedantocracy”. No, I will not give you a list. I am quite sure you can make your own list.

French and English meanings identical

By the way, the modern meanings of the words “pedant” and “pedantic” in French are now identical to their meaning in English.

A terror of the split infinitive

For me, the No. 1 most pedantic behaviour occurred in 1871, when British and American diplomats were trying to sign an agreement between the two countries. It is known as the Treaty of Washington. According to an historian of the times, the British government sent a telegraph to their negotiators to request that “under no circumstances” they should sign a treaty containing a single split infinitive. Luckily, the treaty was signed.

Can you find an even more pedantic example?