Tuesday, January 24, 2012



The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) defines doryphore (also spelled doriphore) as "One who draws attention to the minor errors made by others, esp. in a pestering manner; a pedantic gadfly," and adds "The English sense was introduced by and particularly associated with Sir Harold Nicolson (1886–1968)." One of the OED citations is the following, from Nicholson in The Spectator (October 17, 1952) 500-501:
The doriphore...is the type of questing prig, who derives intense satisfaction from pointing out the errors of others.
When I read a description like this, I say "ouch" to myself, as it hits a little too close to home.

The OED's etymology is "French doryphore Colorado beetle (also used fig.), < Greek δορυϕόρος spear-carrier." The French apparently do use doryphore figuratively, but not in the sense given to it by Nicholson, for which the French might say, e.g., pinailleur, defined by Le Trésor de la langue française informatisé as "(Personne) qui a le souci exagéré du détail. Synon. chicaneur, chicanier, tatillon."

Eric Thomson drew my attention to the following lithograph by Daumier:

The inscription reads:
UN BOUQUINISTE DANS L'IVRESSE. - Rien n'égale ma joie... je viens de trouver à acheter pour cinquante écus un Horace imprimé à Amsterdam en 1780... cette édition est excessivement précieuse, à chaque page elle est criblée de fautes!...
A BOOKSELLER IN ECSTACY. - Nothing equals my joy... I just found for sale, at 50 écus, a Horace printed in Amsterdam in 1780... This edition is extremely valuable, on each page it's riddled with errors!...
The pedant in me looked for an edition of Horace printed in Amsterdam in 1780, but didn't find one. If such an edition existed, its interest for me would consist not in its monetary value, but in all those errors just waiting to be discovered and corrected.

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