Picture, if you will, in your mind’s eye, a small boy. Gangly, gawky, somewhat geeky; he likes girls, and is constantly puzzled by the attitude of his peers, who seem to think that this makes him somehow not quite right in the head.
Although he doesn’t yet know it, the boy has a very good friend (a small girl).
One day, the small girl’s parents decide to emigrate overseas, and, in an interaction that is long lost to any recollection, the girl’s new address finds its way into the small boy’s hands. He writes his soon-to-be-friend a letter, and thus begins forty years of back-and-forth transactions of the written word that employ a now archaic ‘handwriting’ system. (For reasons too convoluted to explore right now, sadly almost all of these scrawls now exist only as their constituent atoms.)
Then, tragically, the no-longer-quite-as-small girl dies.
Needless to say, there’s much more to it than that: but the full tale may only ever be found in the vast tome holding the lost stories of every being ever to walk the Earth. (If you ever come across that, could you please send me a copy?)
To err is human: to mess things up completely requires a computer.
Imagine now, if you will, the early days of the Internet.
Suddenly, there’s an explosion of text communication in a world that, previously, was dominated by the spoken word. Hundreds, then thousands, soon millions of people begin to use this new medium; but the vast majority have little experience with asynchronous communication (let alone writing), and are unwary of its many pitfalls.
Smilies appear: the representation of a vain attempt to introduce facial expression into a language that lacks any, yet, through millennia of human evolution, requires it. Overuse soon robs these of the vestigial meaning for which their champions had hoped.
The Internet: facilitating miscommunication at the speed of light since the late twentieth century.
The small boy (remember him?) is now no longer quite as small as he once was. He has grown, and he has learned. He believes that he has a ‘good eye’; but he also knows that he has a bad one, too: and what he sees with these eyes is that everyone makes mistakes. Through many years he dodges and dives, and tries (so hard!) to avoid the conclusion, but eventually admits: the term ‘everyone’ does include him. Oddly enough, this realisation brings with it the understanding that, in general, people don’t like to be told they’re wrong (and, indeed, are incredibly reluctant to admit it even when they know they are).
So, having identified his — often annoying — tendency to pedantry, having acknowledged that he isn’t — after all — infallible, and recognising that people have an — often intense — dislike of criticism: the no-longer-quite-as-small boy sets out on an epic quest to devise a means by which he can continue his penchant to correct folk, but in a way that minimises the sting (and one that, incidentally, just happens to neatly sidestep the fallout in the case of the inevitable error). The solution he arrives at involves an attempt to inject humour into the mix, cross-breeding pedantry with witticism.
(Of course, it didn’t really happen that way at all: it actually came about more or less by accident, but that doesn’t sound half as good.)
Thus he coins the term ‘pendant’:
Pendant (n): one who, by correcting others, gives himself (or herself) just enough rope by which to hang.
And in those early days hanging around (pun intended) the Internet, he appends this to all his emails as his .sig as a kind of ‘get-out-of-jail-free’ card for those (all too frequent, if truth be told) occasions when he gets it completely wrong.
Now and then, naturally, someone accuses him of spelling ‘pedantry’ wrongly. Fun times 🙂
He, in short, is me.
But you already knew that.