AskDefine | Define pedant

Dictionary Definition

pedant n : a person who pays more attention to formal rules and book learning than they merit [syn: bookworm, scholastic]

User Contributed Dictionary



From etyl frm pedant, pedante ( > modern pédant), or etyl it pedanto, of uncertain origin.


  • , /ˈpɛdənt/, /"pEd@nt/


  1. A teacher or schoolmaster.
    • 1603, John Florio, translating Michel de Montaigne, Essays, vol. 1 ch. 24:
      I have in my youth oftentimes beene vexed to see a Pedant [tr. pedante] brought in, in most of Italian comedies, for a vice or sport-maker, and the nicke-name of Magister to be of no better signification amongst us.
  2. A person who is overly concerned with formal rules and trivial points of learning.

Related terms

Usage notes


person overly concerned with formal rules and trivial points of learning

Extensive Definition

A pedant, or pædant, is a person who is overly concerned with formalism and precision, or who makes a show of learning. The corresponding (obsolete) female noun is pedantess. The term comes from the French pédant (1566 in Darme & Hatzfeldster's Dictionnaire général de la langue française) or its source Italian pedante "teacher," schoolmaster, pedant. (Compare the Spanish pedante.). The origin of the Italian term is uncertain. The first element is apparently the same as in pedagogue (a teacher) etc.; and it has been suggested that pedante was contracted from the medieval Latin pædagogans, present participle of pædagogare "to act as pedagogue, to teach" (Du Cange); but evidence is wanting. The Latin word is derived from Greek παιδαγογός, < παιδ- "child" + αγειν "to lead", which originally referred to a slave who led children to and from school but later meant "a source of instruction or guidance".

Negative connotation

The term is typically used with a negative connotation, indicating someone overly concerned with minutiae detail and whose tone is perceived as condescending. When it was first used by Shakespeare in Love's Labour's Lost (1588), it simply meant "teacher". Shortly afterward, it began to be used negatively. Thomas Nashe wrote in Have with you to Saffron-walden (1596), page 43: "O, tis a precious apothegmaticall [terse] Pedant, who will finde matter inough to dilate a whole daye of the first inuention [invention] of Fy, fa, fum"

Usage of term

Being referred to as a pedant, or pedantic, is generally considered insulting. However some people take pride in being a pedant, especially with regard to the use of the English language. In an attempt to avoid censure, people who wish to make a correction might preface it with "not wishing to be pedantic, but ..." or "without being a pedant, ...".
Pedantry can also be an indication of certain developmental disorders. In particular those with high-functioning autism, often have behavior characterized by pedantic speech. Those with Asperger's tend to obsess over the minutiae of subjects, and are prone to giving long detailed expositions, and the related corrections, and may gravitate to careers in academia or science where such obsessive attention to detail is often functional and rewarded.

Obsessive-compulsive personality disorder

Obsessive-compulsive personality disorder is also in part characterized by a form of pedantry that is overly concerned with the correct following of rules, procedures and practices. Sometimes the rules that OCPD sufferers obsessively follow are of their own devising, or are corruptions or re-interpretations of the letter of actual rules.


  • ''"A Man who has been brought up among Books, and is able to talk of nothing else, is what we call a Pedant. But, methinks, we should enlarge the Title, and give it to every one that does not know how to think out of his Profession and particular way of Life." - Addison, Spectator 1711.
  • "Nothing is as peevish and pedantic as men's judgments of one another." - Desiderius Erasmus
  • "The pedant is he who finds it impossible to read criticism of himself, without immediately reaching for his pen and replying to the effect that the accusation is a gross insult to his person. He is, in effect, a man unable to laugh at himself." - Sigmund Freud, The Ego and the Id.
  • "Servile and impertinent, shallow and pedantic, a bigot and sot" - Thomas Macaulay, describing James Boswell
  • "The term, then, is obviously a relative one: my pedantry is your scholarship, his reasonable accuracy, her irreducible minimum of education and someone else’s ignorance." H. W. Fowler, Modern English Usage
  • "It's not pedantry, but merely a desire for accuracy." - Roy Cropper, in an episode of Coronation Street.
  • "Pedantic, I?" - Alexei Sayle
  • "The only other thing is that I am a pendant went it comes to written English and I would like to proof-read anything that can viewed outside the company." - Garty Vicksters
  • "He can be pedantic, he can be pedantic." - George Costanza, in The Big Salad episode of Seinfeld
  • "I find this meatloaf rather shallow and pedantic."'' - Peter Griffin, in Petarted episode of Family Guy


pedant in German: Pedanterie
pedant in Italian: Pignoleria
pedant in Norwegian Nynorsk: Pedant
pedant in Portuguese: Pedante
pedant in Russian: Педантизм

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

Babbitt, Gongorist, Marinist, Middle American, Philistine, anal character, bluestocking, bourgeois, burgher, compulsive character, conformer, conformist, conventionalist, euphuist, fine writer, formalist, methodologist, middle-class type, model child, organization man, parrot, perfectionist, phrasemaker, phraseman, phrasemonger, plastic person, precieuse, precieux, precisian, precisianist, precisionist, purist, rhetorician, sheep, square, teenybopper, trimmer, wordspinner, yes-man
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