“Didactic” vs. “Pedantic”: Are They Synonyms?

If you’re ever been bored in a lecture hall or class, then there’s a good chance you’ve been at the mercy of a didactic teacher. Or worse, depending on your tolerance for hyper-focused lessons on specific details, a pedantic teacher. Or perhaps the teacher was a bit of both?

To know what type of a boring teacher you’ve been subjected to, you need to know what makes someone didactic and what makes them pedantic. The two words are often mixed up or used interchangeably as synonyms, but each has slightly different meanings and connotations when you consider the exact definitions.

What does didactic mean?

Didactic originated around 1635–45, and comes from the Greek word didaktikós, which means “apt at teaching, instructive.” When used as an adjective, didactic means “inclined to teach or lecture others too much,” as in a “didactic speaker” that slips a lesson, especially a moral one, into every speech. The word often has a negative connotation when used in this way. 

The adjective can apply to more than just people. Art can be didactic as well, such as a didactic painting that is aesthetically pleasing, but that also tries to teach a social or moral message. Anything, really, that is trying to deliver a message along with its original purpose—be it clothing, architecture, food, or something else—can be described as didactic.

There’s also a second meaning that’s a lot less loaded. Didactic can refer to a style and theory of teaching that’s based on a scientific approach to education. The didactic method of teaching can be used for any subject, and simply means that the lesson is based around lectures, studies, and textbooks. 

Synonyms for didactic include preachy, pedagogical, and donnish.

What does pedantic mean?

Pedantic is an adjective that means “overly concerned with minute details or formalisms, especially in teaching.” Pedantic was first recorded in 1590–1600, and comes from pedant, a noun that used to mean “schoolmaster” but grew to mean “a person who overemphasizes rules or minor details,” or “a person who adheres rigidly to book knowledge without regard to common sense.”

Today, pedantic isn’t restricted to describing teachers. You can have a pedantic coworker, for example, who always checks the punctuation in informal emails. Or maybe you have a pedantic friend who insists on correcting anyone who says they’re doing “good” instead of “well.”

Like didactic, describing someone or something as pedantic typically carries a negative connotation. It’s typically used as an adjective when you find a scrupulous focus on details annoying. Synonyms include doctrinaire.

WATCH: Is The Word "Pedantic" Good Or Bad?

How to use each word

Though didactic and pedantic have similar meanings that relate teaching and correcting, the two words aren’t always interchangeable.

In the broadest sense, didactic refers to slipping a larger underlying moral lesson into a conversation or topic, while someone or something that is pedantic zeroes in on facts without considering the bigger picture.

Someone can be both pedantic and didactic, however. For example, a teacher who morally lectures too much while also being overly nitpicky about correcting minute facts. Yet if you plan to use the words as a description, make sure you stick with pedantic when it comes to specifics, and didactic when it comes to more general concepts.

 

It’s fair to say we are a stickler for details here, call us what you will. But how else would you learn the difference between fictional, fictitious, and fictive?

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