SHANE’S EXCELLENT NEW WORDS: Of pedants, pedantry, and a compulsion to explain.


Way back on May 4, 2016, just a few months after the new “word column” debuted at NA Confidential, a chance arose to explain the column’s inspiration.

Since it’s been a year since I last pointed to this reference, let’s go there again — noting that Stan Robison has long since departed his position as second-ranking city attorney.

SHANE’S EXCELLENT NEW WORDS: Apparatchik, or nomenklatura?

Can you explain why these are Shane’s excellent new words, not Bob’s or Larry’s?

The idea for this column dates to a brief social media exchange between the senior editor and Shane Gibson, the city of New Albany’s “corporate” attorney, as opposed to “garden variety” or “proletarian” attorney (Stan Robison).

In a revealing moment of pique, Gibson offered that NA Confidential is prone to using big words solely from a desire to be “smarter than everyone else.”

Of course, if it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck … but we digress.

To be sure, New Albany cultural dissidents often joke that the only city ordinance enforced with any degree of consistency is the one prohibiting the public use of words containing more than four syllables, and at least now we know who wrote it.

The specific word provoking the attorney’s unsocial media ire was nomenklatura, as borrowed from Soviet-era Russia …

In short, an attorney was accusing me of pedantry, which is a pleasing giggle in itself. Pedantry is defined as the habit or instance of being a pedant.


  • a person who makes an excessive or inappropriate display of learning.
  • a person who overemphasizes rules or minor details.
  • a person who adheres rigidly to book knowledge without regard to common sense.

Earlier in the week I noticed the use of pedantic (of or like a pedant) in a comment on Facebook, and it got me thinking about whether I’ve been guilty of pedantry in the past.

On occasion, yes. In the larger sense, I don’t think so.

In itself, an expanded vocabulary is no indicator of the pedantic allergen; it means only that one knows many words, and tries to use them when and where they’re appropriate. The English language is rich in words, after all.

It remains that the things I know, I try to explain.

Admittedly it can be a compulsion, but as I prepare to dip a toe ever so gingerly into teaching “beer class” again for the first time in six years, I recall that rigorous attention to detail never has been a strong suit of mine.

Rather, I prefer telling the sort of stories and using the type of examples that stick with the listener, in the hope of them retaining what I consider to be useful knowledge — whether about beer, baseball or bunker design.

Why do pedants pedant? I don’t know, but my own style is very much in the vernacular tradition, and that’s all right by me.

Why do pedants pedant?, by David Steele (The Guardian)

Some people just love pointing out mistakes and errors made by others. Why? What do they get from it?

So, why do pedants pedant? We don’t really know, but some tangential studies infer it’s to do with a mixture of personality, status-signalling and group identification. As with all things, more (good) research is needed.