Sometimes it seems a fine line between an amiable pedant and a bully.
Matthew Malady at Slate.com has a simple test.
Do you annoy and infuriate people at dinner parties and other social gatherings by correcting others on how they use or pronounce certain words?
Gulp. He warns:
Those who use their advanced knowledge to embarrass or humiliate others are the absolute worst. Yet, for whatever reason, language bullies don’t seem to get this, or they don’t care. Either way, they are out there at this very moment, lurking, lying in wait, ready to pounce.
For the language bully, advice on accurate usage is often “at least partly undertaken in anticipation of an ego-boosting endgame”.
The bullies, psychology professor Robert Kurzban tells Malady, are defined by their appetite for public lessons.
When someone uses a word in a way that we believe to be technically incorrect, we have choices. Beyond the obvious one—simply recognizing that the definitions and usages of words change over time, and getting on with our lives—there are at least two additional options available. We can correct the person in private, or we can point out the mistake publicly.
“I think that choice is pretty revealing,” Kurzban says. “If you are in an antagonistic relationship with the person, then you might do the public correction. If you’re in a positive interaction with the person, and you want to save them from embarrassment, then you might do it privately.”
He adds: “I know who my real friends are in this way. My friends email me when I [make an error] in a blog post. My enemies put it in the comments section.”
* Yes, I know.