Everything has its place

The late Duke of Edinburgh, His Royal Highness Prince Philip, has now been laid to rest, and I trust that I’ve left it long enough that I won’t offend anyone by this post.

A recent entry in ‘The Weekly Learn’ introduced me to a word I’ve not encountered before: dontopedalogy. Although that newsletter did not attribute it to the late Duke of Edinburgh, a quick search revealed that other sources, (such as BBC News, and even the Urban Dictionary) assert that he coined the term. The Internet is awash with claims that His Royal Highness did originate it; and, if he didn’t, I suspect that the identity of the person who actually did will be forever lost in the mists of time.

Dontopedalogy is the science of opening your mouth and putting your foot in it, a science which I have practised for a good many years.

HRH Prince Philip (19212021)
in an address to the British General Dental Council in 1960

One reason I particularly like the word ‘dontopedalogy’ is for its kinship with a word I coined myself some years ago: ‘pendant’:

pendant, n. One who, by correcting others, gives himself (or herself) just enough rope by which to hang.

Me (AKA nobody important), circa 1993

I’ve engaged in pendantry for many years now. So much so that it has perhaps become too much of a habit. I’ve recently had cause to reflect upon that; I had pointed out a typo, one of my personal bêtes noires — the incorrect use of “it’s” (which is a contraction, and always means “it is”) instead of the possessive pronoun “its” — on a fellow WordPress.com blogger’s site. I’d come to think of that person as a friend, but unfortunately that appears to be no longer the case, as I was accused of being a ‘grammar Nazi’. That exchange, together with a conversation with Michelle on Keith’s site, really brought it home to me that my all-too-frequent actions, although well-intentioned, can all too easily cause offense. Arguably, I should have twigged this earlier.

Although I like Sheldon Cooper (I think he’s hilarious), I really don’t want to turn into him.

By one of those curious coincidences that causes me to believe that coincidences happen more often than we realise (but we simply don’t notice most of them), the other day I came across this advice from Julia Galef, which has made me think. A lot.

In this excellent presentation, Julia provides five rules for giving unsolicited criticism:

  1. Don’t.
  2. Check your motivation.
  3. Frame as an opportunity.
  4. Include yourself.
  5. Acknowledge the challenge.

Unfortunately, while even an inveterate pendant like me can recognise the wisdom in Rule #1, it’s exceedingly difficult to change one’s spots. Especially when presented with the errant apostrophe in the ironic phrase “Everything has it’s [sic] place”. (I’ve seen that recently, not once, but twice — and one occurrence was, believe it or not, in a corporate identity manual!)

It’s is not, it isn’t ain’t, and it’s it’s, not its, if you mean it is. If you don’t, it’s its. Then too, it’s hers. It isn’t her’s. It isn’t our’s either. It’s ours, and likewise yours and theirs.

Oxford University Press, Edpress News

At the risk of sounding as pompous as your average Royal, I believe that those who don’t take criticism well suffer from a peculiar malaise, one that inhibits learning from experience. All too many people seem to have a knee-jerk reaction to comments offered that contradict their own world-view. Call me a dontopedalogist if you like, but it seems to me that it’s possible to combine Julia’s ‘rules’ after the simple ‘don’t’ [#1] with the objective of trying to help [#2] by suggesting that perhaps the real challenge [#5] is to view criticism not as a personal attack (something I myself often struggle with [#4]), but as an opportunity to learn [#3].

That said, I think what I will try to do from now on is to be more conscious of the ‘unsolicited’ bit; if I simply can’t restrain my pendantic impulse and don’t have a clear mandate to comment, I will endeavour to begin with a disclaimer and apology up front.

Julia ends by recommending the ‘criticism sandwich’: compliment, criticism, compliment. That sounds to me like a lot of work; but if it can avoid hurt feelings, it’s probably worth the effort.

About peNdantry

Phlyarologist (part-time) and pendant. Campaigner for action against anthropogenic global warming (AGW) and injustice in all its forms. Humanist, atheist, notoftenpist. Wannabe poet, writer and astronaut.
This entry was posted in ... wait, what?, Communication, History, illusion, memetics, News and politics, People, Phlyarology and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

27 Responses to Everything has its place

  1. Tom says:

    I always have problems with wayward apostrophe’s, Pendantry 😂! I’ve even created a supervillain with the name The Dropped Apostrophe because his grammar’s awful. I blame him when I get it wrong. And I don’t mind being told when I am wrong, either (if you don’t know – or notice – you can’t improve).
    However, I struggle saying dontopedalogy on the first attempt, but it is a new word to me, and I love new words!

    Liked by 2 people

    • pendantry says:

      compliment That’s a truly superb comment, Tom, thanks for that! criticism It’s “apostrophes”, not “apostrophe’s”, you numb-nuts! compliment That’s a truly superb comment, Tom, thanks for that!

      Here’s a tip: say ‘dontopedalogy’ three times fast, and Prince Philip will… ah, maybe not. Please tell me more about your supervillain, I’m intrigued!

      Liked by 2 people

      • Tom says:

        Hehehe! That apostrophe in apostrophes was deliberately added… that’s just the type of thing The Dropped Apostrophe does. Mischief through making cringe worthy signs. He loves potatoe’s. 😃 As supervillains go, he isn’t too bad…

        Liked by 2 people

  2. Herb says:

    Unsolicited advice is seldom heeded but for myself, I like to know if my spelling or apostrophes are off. The compliment/criticize/compliment idea has been around for a very long time and almost seems cliche, but it works the best. The other thing I try to do when I have people working underneath me is praise in public, criticize in private.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. mistermuse says:

    Dontopedalogy don’t seem Prince Philipy, it seems more Donald Trumpy — except that The Donald is better(?) known for the crap that comes out of his mouth than the foot that goes in it.

    Liked by 3 people

    • pendantry says:

      Oh, I don’t know… did you follow the link to that BBC news article I offered above? It contains a list of 78 dontopedalogisms uttered by the late Duke. Some of them are corkers! While some were probably accidental gaffes, others were clearly attempts at humour on his part.

      I think that the important point is that HRH was very aware of the fact that the majority of these were mistakes. T****’s ego, on the other hand, won’t allow him to recognise any of his perverse antics as an error.

      Liked by 3 people

  4. It’s is not, it isn’t ain’t, and it’s it’s, not its, if you mean it is. If you don’t, it’s its. Then too, it’s hers. It isn’t her’s. It isn’t our’s either. It’s ours, and likewise yours and theirs.

    Oxford University Press, Edpress News

    That sums it up nicely!


    Dontopedalogy is the science of opening your mouth and putting your foot in it, a science which I have practised for a good many years.

    HRH Prince Philip (1921–2021)
    in an address to the British General Dental Council in 1960


    Liked by 2 people

  5. This is a fantastic post.
    1) I hope you know I always welcome any and all comments. I might adhere to your suggestions or I may not, but I will not get offended at you pointing out my mistakes. Why? Because, like you, I enjoy improving myself. I will consider your comment and either dismiss it or use it. When the latter occurs, I will be very grateful to you for sharing your insight.
    2) Not many people seem to be open to criticism. In real life or on-line (obviously; if they’re not in real life, why would they be on-line?). I’m not sure why. Maybe because of the ego-centric culture we live in? And because if we fail we are either told we won anyway or that it didn’t even matter instead of being told: “Yes, you lost, but maybe you can do better next time if you try?”
    3) The compliment sandwich… I hate it. Why? Because to me, it’s absolutely fake. I’ve seen people patronize others using this method so bad. And those that receive it seem to be so pleased that they were praised that they don’t focus on the bad. In turn, that makes them NOT try and improve. So, in my opinion, this technique is absolutely useless.
    4) Yes, I, too, give my opinion even if I’m not asked. Even though plenty of people have taken offense in that, and more have told me to stop, I keep on going. Why? Because -> I <- would like to know if I was doing something wrong. I would want to do better. If you don't want to, then fine. Just tell me to keep my opinions (or facts) to myself and I will. Simple. That way, we can go without too many problems. But if you give me a BS excuse and/or complain about me pointing out basic facts, then we might have a more serious problem because I'm not a fan of such people and you're probably not a fan of people like me.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. leavergirl says:

    Yeah, I don’t buy the “don’t” part. Criticism is seldom solicited, even more seldom honestly solicited, and if we don’t, we are complicit in whatever goes awry if we bear it silently or fail to raise a voice. In an age of rife political correctness, I think it’s prudent and responsible to err on the side of DO.

    As for the feedback sandwich, I’ve tried it, but it does not seem to work — and it feels manipulative. So I would concur it’s bullshit advice.

    Liked by 2 people

    • pendantry says:

      Thanks for dropping by, leavergirl. I hope you’re well. Have you abandoned your blog? I don’t see any links on your gravatar or handle… ?

      For me, I think ‘Rule #1’ is useful to keep in mind as a hurdle to cross. It will make me think harder about when and, particularly, how I stick my oar in when I choose to ignore it. Your point about the danger of keeping silent in the face of egregious error is well made.

      As for the ‘sandwich’, the fact that both you and Goldie agree it’s crap is good enough for me.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I think Julia Missed one The list should include Help If you look at Don’t Critizize and then you look at help You come up with a much petter combination and everyone wins.
    Laughter Beats Pneunomia!! I now have proof positive!

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Marleen says:

    I like your presentation on this topic.

    Liked by 1 person

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  11. Book Bore. says:

    I love the idea of a criticism sandwich. Will dine out on that one!

    Liked by 1 person

    • pendantry says:

      Scroll up. A couple of others think that perhaps it’s not such a good idea… and I find that I agree with them.


      • Book Bore. says:

        ha-ha, I’ve been rumbled not taking things seriously enough – again! Above right, of course. Nevertheless I love the idea of the sandwich (regardless of efficacy), the syntax, the sound of all those lovely Cs and Ss squeezed and squashed together, and that they’re sneakily ubiquitous in different shapes and disguises. And funny. Doubly so as they only really work on morons. Am off to practice in the glass!

        Liked by 1 person

        • pendantry says:

          I have to admit that, after hitting ‘Send’ on my response to you, I regretted not having complimented you on your pun. In my defence, it was late in the evening; I should know better than to deal with things when I’m tired.

          I hadn’t really thought about it, but you’re absolutely right about the sound of the ‘criticism sandwich’. I have a sneaking suspicion that you read everything aloud to better savour the flavour of language. (If you do, I would recommend avoiding Klingon as it quite viciously savages both throat and ears.)

          Liked by 1 person

  12. Pingback: I am not pendantry (I am me) | Wibble

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