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 (1921–2021)
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:
- Check your motivation.
- Frame as an opportunity.
- Include yourself.
- 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.