I just realized there are some people around my workplace who

  • always try to correct me when using a certain word, saying that that's not how I should speak, and I should use other words (the ones they provide me with)

  • or pretend they didn't understand what I was saying, but it's pretty clear that they did understand. This again with the same purpose, of making me rephrase, or use the words they expect.

When doing this, they use, among others, the argument that they sure have understood, but others might not. But then, nobody else complains of not having understood what I was saying. Another argument they use is that even if they understood it, what I said was incorrect.

I make the assumption that when I express my ideas in words, I use enough details to get the point across.

I would call this type of non-constructive attitude a 'hater' attitude, but I'm curious whether there's a more specific word for this.

meta: I'm not a native English speaker, and I don't know a word for this in my language, I'd just use the dictionary to find out if my language has an analogous word. Anyway it would be good to know if there's a word for this concept in these two languages. meta: Also, the situations I refer to happen (mostly) when I'm speaking my own language, but the language really isn't the point here, because I do speak multiple languages and I did meet this behavior (though very rarely) when speaking any language.

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    If these people are your peers, they're pedants. If they're the ones paying you, they're editors. – Edwin Ashworth Jan 30 '15 at 12:24
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    The standard idiom for this is "playing dumb", or, in the world of TV Tropes, "obfuscating stupidity". – Dan Bron Jan 30 '15 at 12:52
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    Precision of language is often very beneficial at work, especially in a technical field. It speeds communication and reduces ambiguity. The "pretending" is most likely genuine confusion, where you think you have explained adequately, but there is still room for ambiguity in the listener's mind. I would try very hard not to take such corrections personally. – Karl Bielefeldt Jan 30 '15 at 14:01
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    "Can I go to the bathroom?" "I don't know, can you?" – Mike G Jan 30 '15 at 14:03
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    @vlad-ardelean They might genuinely be trying to be helpful depending on what words they are correcting you on. – Pharap Jan 30 '15 at 18:47

You could call a person who does that a pedant:

Pedant (noun)

a person who annoys other people by correcting small errors and giving too much attention to minor details; one who unduly emphasizes minutiae in the presentation or use of knowledge (Merriam-Webster)

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    But be careful how you pronounce it. There are two ways: /'pɛdənt/ and /'pidənt/. If you use one, they can correct you to the other one. – John Lawler Jan 30 '15 at 16:21
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    And then you can correct them with the other one, they can correct you again, and you're trapped in an endless cycle of pedantry! – Nicole Jan 30 '15 at 16:24
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    That's pedantry. :-) – John Lawler Jan 30 '15 at 16:47
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    Without context, we have no way of knowing if they were being pedant, condescending, offering constructive criticism, or just covering there own behinds from blow-back. Correcting someone on their pronunciation of nuclear is pedantry. Correcting the use of word photon for proton, is not. – Mazura Jan 31 '15 at 6:01
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    @Mazura I signed onto this SE just to upvote that – dwn Jan 31 '15 at 12:16

Your question really poses 2 questions: one where coworkers try to correct you, and one where they pretend not to understand you. The currently chosen answer seems to handle the first question with @Nicole's pedant. However for the second I would submit:


Annoyingly insensitive or slow to understand: 'he wondered if the doctor was being deliberately obtuse'

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    "deliberately obtuse" was my first thought as well – WernerCD Jan 30 '15 at 17:06
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    obtuse alone doesn't have anything to do with intent. An unsophisticated person is obtuse without having any intention to be so. You need the "deliberately" qualifier in order to capture the fact that person is intentionally being annoying. – Justin Cave Jan 30 '15 at 19:09
  • @JustinCave you're just being obtuse. ;) – Digital Chris Jan 30 '15 at 19:12
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    No, he's pointing out your mistake. – John Haugeland Jan 30 '15 at 21:50
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    It's my life Warden! Don't you understand!? – BlueRaja - Danny Pflughoeft Jan 30 '15 at 23:38

A late answer, and it's a bit radical, but perhaps these people are genuinely trying to help you! Perhaps they seem themselves as friends, mentors, experts or educators.

Sometimes the use of the wrong word is not only confusing for listeners but also a signal that you don't fully understand what you are talking about. Those who deeply understand a domain tend to use language very precisely and can't help notice when others use wrong or loose language. By picking you up on your language, they may be trying to teach you about some distinction you seemingly weren't aware of.

You didn't say exactly what they were picking you up on, so I can't comment on your specific case. It sounds like you consider it something trivial.

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    While this doesn't seem to be the OP's interpretation of these people's actions and motivations, the details of their actions in the question really seem to support this interpretation. – Dan Getz Jan 30 '15 at 15:48
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    I would upvote this answer if this were a Workplace StackExchange question. – Digital Chris Jan 30 '15 at 15:56
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    In my own field (computers/networks) this happens a lot. People talk about "the internet", while they just mean the in-house local network. Or maybe just the mail-server. Confusion galore. They get pissed when I correct them or when I ask for clarification. In their own mind they are crystal-clear and I'm just being a pedant. – Tonny Jan 30 '15 at 16:22

Maybe "pretentious, punctilious, pompous, ostentatious, supercilious, hairsplitting, nit-picking...". My advice, keep it civil. Avoid placing the word "ass" after any of the preceding. Take the high road.

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    LOL! +1 for the advice about avoiding adding the word "ass"... – Kristina Lopez Jan 30 '15 at 14:33
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    @KristinaLopez - Yes. A sensible assessment. – Erik Kowal Jan 31 '15 at 10:10

Passive-Aggressive is a good way to describe the behavior, if not the people themselves. You are communicating information. They willfully disregard this and take control of the conversation by focusing on how you say things. More, they won't respond until you use the words they want you to use. This is textbook passive-aggressive behavior.


Nitpicking: "minute and usually unjustified criticism"(m-w.com) pretty much describes your colleagues.

Thanks, I learned something, I would say it's better just to humor them and let it go one ear and out the other because life is just too short. Don't take it personally.

  • Hello Karen, welcome to English Language and Usage. Someone else down-voted your answer, perhaps because it initially looks more like a supportive comment than an answer providing the word sought. Maybe because Nit-picking was suggested earlier. Don't take it personally :) – RedGrittyBrick Jan 30 '15 at 15:54

Obstinate person, or maybe 'Obstinate besserwisser' (or 'Obstinate wiseass') seems like a possible description to me.

1. firmly or stubbornly adhering to one's purpose, opinion, etc.; not yielding to argument, persuasion, or entreaty. 2. characterized by inflexible persistence or an unyielding attitude; inflexibly persisted in or carried out: "obstinate advocacy of high tariffs."

(from http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/obstinate)

Since your meaning seems to be clear and you are not a native speaker, this sounds like a really rude behaviour. The intention might be good (education), but seems to come across as obnoxious.


There's a scene in the movie, "2010," that comes to mind.

An astronaut and a cosmonaut are enduring a challenging experience. The cosmonaut says, "Easy as cake!"

The astronaut corrects the cosmonaut, replying, "Pie! Easy as pie!"

Later, the cosmonaut says, "Piece of pie."

Again, the astronaut responds with, "Cake! Piece of cake!"

We weren't given examples of what the OP said that his colleagues corrected. We were told that English is not the OP's native language. English has idioms that are difficult for non-native speakers to grasp. What do cake and pie have to do with a task's level of difficulty, anyway? Still, the majority of responses jumped to the conclusion that the native speakers were probably just being jerks, so sure, go right ahead and cast aspersions - we'll even show you how.

I suggest that the OP take help where he can get it. The OP, however, should not forget to Доверяй, но проверяй.

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    "Доверяй, но проверяй" => "Trust, but verify" ...per Google translate. – Mathieu Guindon Jan 31 '15 at 18:31

"Captious" describes a person who consistently seizes the opportunity to pounce on other prople's (perceived) mistakes. Merriam-Webster defines it as:

Marked by an often ill-natured inclination to stress faults and raise objections

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