A Pedant’s Pedagogy

School curriculum in ancient Greece was divided into three categories: writing, music and gymnastics. At the age of six, the child was enrolled in a school run by a professional schoolmaster. The day typically started with classes on writing, reading and arithmetic. This was followed by a music class in which he learnt how to play the lyre and set famous poems to music. Thereafter, he would visit the gymnasium and participate in wrestling and other athletic contests with other boys his age.

From the time he left his house till he returned home in the evening, though, he was under the supervision of a slave, who acted as his nurse, his guardian and his tutor. The slave was called paidagōgos – made up of two Greek words pais (or paid-) which means boy/chid and agogos which means leader, it aptly described the role of the person who led the child from his home to school and back.

Education in Ancient Greece (Photo Credit: studenthandouts.com)
Education in Ancient Greece (Photo Credit: studenthandouts.com)
A 'ped-agogue' with a child (Photo Credit: binfind.com)
A Greek child with his paidagogos who is holding his lyre (Photo Credit: binfind.com)


Subsequently, pedagogue took on the meaning of a teacher, especially, one who is too opinionated or is a stickler for formal rules.

In this sense it is similar to the word pedant – a pedantic speaker is too academic or pompous – concerned more about displaying their bookish knowledge than sharing it, and a person with pedantic concern for grammar is so fussy about every grammatical rule that people often tire with their pedantry!

Pedantic Petty Thief (Copyright: jantoo.com)
Pedantic Petty Thief (Copyright: jantoo.com)
Pedagogy of the Oppressed
Pedagogy of the Oppressed








The word pedagogy, though, retains its older meaning and refers to the art of teaching or training (with no negative connotation).

Some other words related to pais are paediatrics (the branch of medicine that deals with children and their diseases), encyclopaedia (which literally means ‘circular i.e. holistic education’ and encyclopaedic (which carries the sense of broad and comprehensive learning).

What made you look up the word/s in this post? Did you find the explanations here useful or interesting? Do share by leaving a reply below! Or learn more about the Word Origin Stories series.

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