I've never been one to nit-pick (that's not entirely correct)

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The Independent Online
PEDANTRY is one of those arcane pursuits that, along with water divining and astrology, seem to appeal to the British character. So, to help celebrate this summer solstice, I am glad to welcome a guest appearance from Paul Postrum, the Professor of Practising Pedantry at the University of Milton Keynes, in the hope that Paul will tell us something about the art of hair-splitting.

So, it's the longest day of the year today (writes Paul Postrum, our visiting Pedantry Specialist).

(Or was it yesterday? It may well have been. I am not sure whether it is the 21st or 22nd which is actually the longest day of the year. I only mention it now in order to attract correspondence from the over-informed. The thing about being pedantic is that as soon as you put a foot wrong, you know someone will come along and put you right.

It is impossible to be lonely if you are a pedant. So all you have to do is to mention a fact of which you are not really sure and you will got really nice, friendly letters from people who point out that in fact you are in error, because the longest day of the year is actually . . .

(I'll give you another example for free. If you refer to the national flag of Britain as the Union Jack, you will get a small battery of letters correcting you and pointing out that it is not called the Union Jack at all but the Union Flag, and that the Union Jack is actually the name given by sailors to . . . well, I've forgotten what the Union Jack really is, but I am sure you get the idea.

(I'll give you another example. If you refer to the clock that adorns the tower of the Houses of Parliament as Big Ben, somebody will be sure to write in from as far away as the county of Fife to tell you that in fact it is the bell which is called Big Ben and that the clock has no name at all.

(And I wager that at this very moment someone is tempted to sit down and write to tell me that the last thing that Fife is is a county, because it is the Kingdom of Fife. No matter that there is no king of Fife and hasn't been for many a long year - it is the kingdom of Fife] This is one of the basic axioms of the world of pedantry. In fact, even now I bet someone is half-tempted to look through his or her dictionary to see what the plural of axiom is. Is he wrong? Should it really by 'axia'? After all, the plural of 'medium' is 'media' so shouldn't the plural of axiom be . . .?

(Though, of course, what I am really hoping is that someone will write in and point out that 21 or 22 June or whenever it is cannot really be the longest day at all because all days are the same length viz 24 hours . . .

(And another letter I am hoping to attract soon is the one that says, 'When you say 'viz', I think you way be mixing it up with the abbreviation 'ie', because of course viz is short for videlicet, whereas 'eg' is short for exempli gratia and 'ie' is short for id est, I trust you will not make this elementary mistake again . . .'

(Although most of the people who write in to you with this kind of complaint do not have the faintest idea what videlicet means, nor do they have much idea how the word videlicet can come to give birth to the abbreviation 'viz', and how in turn that can give birth to the word Viz, as the title of a scabrous but funny comic from the North- east of England up in Geordieland . . .)

(Which reminds me that some of my favourite letters are from those people in the North-

east of England who are fearfully aware that the word 'Geordie' is often misused, as it should only refer to people from Newcastle and not those from Sunderland, or maybe it is the other way round . . .

(Incidentally, it is only just becoming apparent to me that the whole of this article so far has been written inside brackets, and I am well on track to creating a new world record, namely - or viz - to writing an entire piece of prose within brackets, and although it slightly saddens me to realise that everything I have written is parenthetical, which means that nothing I write has ever really been to the point, still there is a certain excitement for a practising pedant in being on the way to a new world record . . .)

So anyway, it's the longest day of the year today (this article to be continued in June next year . . .)