« Corner Case, Edge CaseInoculated »
10.22.2002

Pedantry

Sometimes I think every profession has its own special niche for the milquetoast authoritarian; those colorless and highly annoying people who thrive on being right about matters most arcane. Everyone has encountered the obsessive trivia hound, movie geek, or sports nut at work or in school, but it turns out there are whole little niche professions for the insufferable know-it-all; professions that pay you to acquire detailed knowledge too stultifying for the average bear, and let you be snarky about it.

I'm not talking about the borderline jobs like taxonomy, baseball writing, numismatics or tax law. I mean jobs that let you go whole hog, and devote your life to the minutia of some arbitrary system.

In computer programming, we have language lawyers. In government, there are parliamentarians and heads of protocol. But nothing beats organic chemistry, where you can specialize in nomenclature, and devote your whole life to parsing names like:

tricarbonyl[( 1,2,3,4,5-.eta. )-1-methyl-2,4-cyclopentadien-1-yl]-manganese

and

(1R)-1,7,7-trimethyl-bicyclo[ 2.2.1 ]heptan-2-one

Oh, what glory can be yours! Every compound has a one true name, and any chemist ( in theory ) should be able to look at a molecule and come up with the appropriate monstrous name, but the rules are so arcane that in practice one must often seek professional help. Until computers came along, 'professional help' meant turning to one of those damp-palmed nomenclature geeks to help fill in the compound names in your research paper. Fortunately, times have changed, and now we have computers that will take a molecular diagram and give you a canonical compound name without smirking.

Three cheers for computers, my Internet friends! Let's hope they can stamp out priggish people in all walks of life. ---

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