As I understand it, 'didactic' is used to mean something that has the ulterior motive of teaching especially in a moral connotation and also to mean patronising, or appearing patronising.

So does describing someone or someone's manners as didactic make it an offensive comment, or indeed simply mean they have the inclination to teach, moral or otherwise?

Greek being my mother tongue, I know the word stems from the greek 'διδακτικός' meaning 'someone who teaches' though in a non-professional manner, but I don't know if the word's meaning has been adapted through the language transition.

  • 1
    As a native English speaker, I can't see why it would be considered offensive. – Blubberguy22 Jun 3 '16 at 13:00
  • 1
    Can you provide an example of "didactic" being used in a patronizing way? I've never heard it used in a negative context, most of the time it's neutral or slightly positive. – P. O. Jun 3 '16 at 13:01
  • Patronizing way: "Oh dear, you're always so didactic with our dinner guests – sweetheart, they're not here to learn, they're here for cocktails!" Or like "Geez, stop being such a didact all the time, Scott, my gawd!" – david macCary richter Jun 5 '16 at 6:41
  • @OddCore, I would note that "didactic" does not, in isolation, connote anything ulterior or untoward regarding the motivations behind the didact's motive(s), but it certainly is pretty easy to choose phrasing that shades the term toward a negative connotation. – david macCary richter Jun 5 '16 at 6:49

It is not clear from a dictionary definition, but it is usually employed in a negative sense. Consider some of these recent examples from the OED:

1979 J. B. Ingram Curriculum Integration & Lifelong Educ. iv. 66
This one-sided view..portrays teaching as didactic, theoretical, and ego-centric, the teacher being active, but the learner passive.

2009 S. Cross Adult Teaching & Learning i. 9 Techniques identified as teacher-centred have come to mean all that is didactic, boring, self-serving and neglectful.

2011 Daily Tel. 14 May 21 In drink the middle-aged male is a repugnant beast—bossy, loud, didactic and know-all.

I think the main problem is that it has come to imply a form of teaching in which the pupil plays little part but as recipient of information. And I suppose you could say that it is critical, if not mildly offensive to call someone's writing didactic

  • Bah, these uses are just another way of saying "mansplaining" or just clueless or drunk or whatever. It certainly can be used as a sign of respect – it's just that not everyone wants "to be lectured [at]". – david macCary richter Jun 5 '16 at 6:44

It's not a commonly used word, but if we look at definition 2, here (which you refer to with your comment about appearing patronising), we can see that it's quite insulting.



1.intended for instruction; instructive: didactic poetry.
2.inclined to teach or lecture others too much: a boring, didactic speaker.
3.teaching or intending to teach a moral lesson.
4.didactics, (used with a singular verb) the art or science of teaching.

With all language comprehension, we have to consider the motives of the speaker, ie what were they really trying to communicate? So, if I was a teacher, and one of my students told me that I was didactic, then I could, according to the definition, think "That's fine, she's simply saying that I'm a teacher". However, since we both already know that I'm a teacher, her motivation for saying it with this meaning doesn't make sense - she would just be stating the obvious, it's completely pointless.

So, I would then assume that she didn't mean definition 1, and that she probably meant definition 2: the motivation makes sense here, as she's telling me that I come off as patronising - she's either insulting me or she's trying to help me realise how to be a better teacher. So, I might be insulted, or I might "take it on the chin" and try to not be as patronising in future.

Either way, she risks offense (which is really what your question should be asking: deciding that something is objectively, inherently offensive can be difficult, and is prone to debate. It's more useful to ask if you risk offending people - that's a much easier question to answer.)

EDIT: this answer may appear didactic. Apologies if so.


Some words I choose to define a certain way, because it seems burning with emotion to consider another. I guess this would be one of those words. For me, the most valuable use of this word has a precondition, however. That is, it should be reasonable to believe that the context of circumstances of the object of the word should be easily described as unusual for teaching or nearly impossible conditions for teaching without offending. In this context, the word "didactic" is primarily then useful as a gesture of gratefulness when a speaker is choosing to risk negativity to teach, also assuming the speaker is qualified within the subject to teach in the first place. Long way to say that the word works for me when someone is teaching in an unconventional forum, and I then would like to express gratitude..."Your style is so didactic, and I have learned so much from you, thankyou." No way in this context to use the positive of "didactive" against someone or to imply disappointment with someone. Again, not with the positive use of the word (non-negative use).

The realest use of this word is as a way to plainly describe the style of "teach speech"...simply as a matter of fact the way to describe the type of speech contained in the teaching method.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.