When writing or talking about, well frankly, almost anything, lurking in the corner, a black cloud waits, the pedant is about to strike.

Actually, I think you’ll find…

In a world of red tape, they rush around trying to wrap up the English language in even more red tape, declaring how things are to be talked about lest, horrors, a generalisation leaves a hint of confusion.

In George Orwell’s 1984, the Newspeak dictionary is designed to abolish any form of extraneous thought – all words are rigidly defined, with any ambiguity erased. Poetry and colour are abolished. It’s a pedants’ dream.

Actually, I think you’ll find…

It’s not to say that detailed accuracy isn’t important, but in its place. It tends to help to know if you’re using Metric or Imperial measurements when building a spacecraft that’s being sent to Mars. Otherwise they crash. The incorrect use of commas in a legal contract can cost a firm millions of dollars.

When building a mechanical device, measurements are vital. As a computer coder, I know that missing a semi-colon will crash the code.

But, in general writing, aimed at the general person?

I am not a railway specialist, but a moderately informed generalist. I love standing on a platform and seeing a steam train rush past. And yes, it’s a steam train, not a “steam locomotive pulling a train of carriages”.

I want to enjoy the thrill and excitement of watching a steam train, of seeing the look of wonder on other people’s faces, being wrapped up in that flinty smoky aroma, of hearing the blast of the steam whistle.

I don’t want to stand there muttering that actually, I think you’ll find it’s a locomotive. Actually, I think you’ll find it’s a class whatever, but the restorers have ruined it by using not quite the correct shade of green paint on the tender. Actually, I think you’ll find that the original design differed by 3 points of a degree from how it is here.

Actually, you’ll find I don’t really care

And, as much as it horrifies the experts, the average joe on the high street also doen’t really care either. For them, it’s exciting, and then they move on.

Whenever photos are released of amazing things, people gasp in wonder. Then move on.

However, as people advance from excited bystander to enthusiast, we learn the terminology. Like many things learned when at school, that we later learn are wrong, the new enthusiast learns that what they thought was true is in fact wrong.

The question is what do they do with that knowledge?

Does it enhance their enjoyment? Does it make it easier for them to appreciate what is going on?

Or do they rush around moaning at other people that they mere beginners are getting it wrong?

Actually, I think you’ll find…

Burning the pedants

Burning the pedants

As a writer, I know far more than I convey through my keyboard. In part because often I get home and want to write paragraphs of prose, but the muse has wandered off to the pub instead, leaving me bereft of ability to write what I am thinking.

Sometimes I want to focus on one small aspect of a much wider story and talk about one bit which I found really interesting.

“I am very disappointed that your short article about A didn’t contain 16 paragraphs about the only slightly related B, C, D, or E.”

If someone was having a detailed technical conversation to a technical audience, then terminology is king. But to the average person, the terminology is baffling.

The best communicators do not hide behind baffling terminology; they use lay language for the lay person. Your correspondent struggles to understand most artists, because most of them speak unrecognisable gibberish.

A lot of science and technology speakers understand that exacting terminology is not needed for the lay reader, and try to convey the overall message without bogging down in excessively detailed language.

Show off the wonder of the universe, not a blackboard full of equations.

If steam train fans want more people to also appreciate the joys of age of the steam train, they can either say “oi, idiot, you got the language wrong”, or they can be welcoming, enthusiastic, and understanding that for general chatter, language is more fluid.

Isn’t it fun to talk to people and share an enthusiasm for a topic, share the emotion, share the joy, share the fun? Or recite facts and bore people to death?

Do you want to sit down the pub with a pedant? Those people slowly nursing a pint and glaring at people who dare to split their infinitives. The person who interrupts a bit of light banter with a gloomy correction of the language used.

Someone in the pub says that they took a photo of “big ben”, we all know what they really took a photo of, but the pedant wakes. The pedant wanders over. The pedant strikes. Actually, I think you’ll find…

Although it gave me great pleasure with my old phone to have a photo of the actual bell that I had taken myself on a visit, and would whip it out whenever the pedant struck. Actually, I think you’ll find I DID take a photo of Big Ben.

They were hoist by their own petard.

Of course that phrase doesn’t mean what most people think it means. But only the pedant cares. I don’t. You don’t. You read that sentence, an image formed in the mind. You might even have smiled slightly.

And isn’t it better to live in a world where we can smile?


Be the first to know what's on in London, and the latest news published on ianVisits.

You can unsubscribe at any time from my weekly emails.


This website has been running now for over a decade, and while advertising revenue contributes to funding the website, it doesn't cover the costs. That is why I have set up a facility with DonorBox where you can contribute to the costs of the website and time invested in writing and research for the news articles.

It's very similar to the way The Guardian and many smaller websites are now seeking to generate an income in the face of rising costs and declining advertising.

Whether it's a one-off donation or a regular giver, every additional support goes a long way to covering the running costs of this website, and keeping you regularly topped up doses of Londony news and facts.

If you like what you read on here, then please support the website here.

Thank you

  1. 100andthirty says:

    Well said that man. Pedantry does matter in some places (eg engineering drawings), but quite relaxed about it not being here. I find your articles most interesting.

    By the way, this article had echoes of Diamond Geezer!

  2. REGP says:

    Love the title of the article, and the article. We all knew what you meant by train so to H*** with the pendants

  3. Michael Churchill says:

    The same pedant would claim that a “train station” must be called a “railway station”. In that case, why isn’t a “bus station” called a “road station”?

    • Joe K says:

      Good point. That’s why I call Heathrow a “plane station” and write a blog post when people think I’m a bit daft 🙂

  4. Johnny says:

    This article was ruined for me by a misplaced apostrophe at the end of the fourth paragraph: it should be ‘a pedant’s dream’

  5. SimonB says:


  6. GT says:

    Is the horse the same as the cart, or is the “Horse-&-Cart” a thing too?
    See also: Locomotive / Carriages & “Train”

    • Ian Visits says:

      Does an atomic nucleus have distinct electrons whizzing around it, as shown in all diagrams, or is it a quantum cloud, as is thought to be the real representation?

      In essence, does the layperson really need to see the atom as it is, or as is familiar? Which is likely to be recognised and understood by the lay person?

      The same applies to a whole swathe of technology issues.

      The layperson calls it a steam train. The expert doesn’t.

      Does it matter? Sensible experts would say not. The pedant would say it’s the most important issue in the universe and will go around “correcting” people at every opportunity.

  7. Nic Maennling says:

    We are sorry that you do not care. That is very sad. Your article would not have to have been written if correct terminology were used.

    • Ian Visits says:

      What is better though – to be clinically correct, and hence incomprehensible to the lay reader, or to write for the lay reader?

      Do science stories in the mass media obsess about detailed technical accuracy, or do that accept that in order to reach the lay reader and excite them, that some compromise is needed in the language.

      Some of the people who read this blog are indeed experts, but most are not.

      Most experts accept, and even endorse the linguistic compromises that a lay publication undertakes to reach a wider public and hopefully share the joys of what is being written about, to enthuse people with interest and excitement, and maybe convert a few into fans.

      The pedant doesn’t accept that, and complains, bitterly.

  8. JohnC says:

    As a lay person, I would have thought most people would call such a locomotive a steam engine rather than a steam train. At least in the days of steam they did. I think it should be possible to point out inaccuracies without being labelled, pejoratively, a pedant.

  9. keenreader says:

    Oh dear. A “whole swathe of technology issues”…. Please check the meaning of ‘swathe’; it seems to have become a catch-all collective noun beloved by lazy journalists. I do try not to be pedantic, but it’s getting more and more difficult these days…

Home >> News >> rants