Sunday, April 07, 2019

About pedantry

Two tweets in rapid succession about how to deal with wrongness, in others, and in yourself.

The first seems straightforward enough: leave them* be; what’s most important is that someone is enjoying a great library and you don’t want to spoil that experience; it may just be an excitable slip of the thumb, and Twitter doesn’t have an edit facility. The second is interesting because it’s about awareness of one’s own fallibility, rather than a desire to flag it up in others. And it prompts a line from Mark Twain: “I never make fun of a man for mispronouncing a word; it means he learned it by reading.”

The problem is, of course, that language needs *some* rules, or it’s no longer a language. By electing to let the misspelling of “Bodleian” (I assume, and Blogger autocorrects that to “Boolean”, which is interesting in itself) slide, we’re acknowledging that another orthographic car crash, further down the line, may be worthy of intervention, before we’re in a Tower of Babel** scenario. And who decides where that point is?

*And yes, I know I’m using a plural pronoun to denote a non-gender-specific singular and five years ago I would have flinched at that, so change is possible...

**And there’s a further dilemma, about assuming a hypothetical reader’s knowledge of the Bible, of whether I need to explain that reference, but maybe that’s enough chin-stroking before The Archers omnibus has started.

PS: Jezz, the originator of the first tweet, wishes to say that he wasn’t being pedantic; he was simply seeking to save someone from potential embarrassment. Happy to clarify.


Vicus Scurra said...

Does one have to "flag it up", or will "flag it" suffice?
I have read this comment several times but cannot see an error - I am sure there is one.

Tim F said...

Isn't it something to do with raising signal flags on ships? (England expectorates and all that.)

Roger Allen said...

The linesmen in football carry - or used to carry - flags and when the ball went out of play they raised the flag - flagged it up.
I came across a rather kindly way of pedantically pointing out a spelling error: "Is this typo of the year or neologism of the year?" The problem is, the error has got to be the right kind for that to work.