Friday, October 16, 2009

Useful word of the day: ultracrepidarian

Today I'd like to focus on one of my favorite words. It's a rarely-used word, one in danger of obsolescence, which is unfortunate because it has so much relevance today:

ULTRACREPIDARIAN n. Someone who gives opinions on matters beyond his knowledge. (Also adj. -- pertaining to one who gives opinions on matters beyond his knowledge.)

ULTRACREPIDATE v. to criticize beyond one's sphere of knowledge.

The word comes from a story recorded by Pliny. (If you've read much Pliny, you know he was a rather "creative" historian, so this story may be apocryphal.) Anyway....

According to the story, the famous Greek painter Apelles was hanging his paintings in a public square, when a cobbler approached and examined one of the paintings. "You've depicted the sandal wrong," the cobbler said, noting that Apelles hadn't included enough loops in the leather straps. Apelles accepted the suggestion and repainted the shoe. The cobbler then went on to smugly critique various other aspects of the painting, such as the composition, the color, and so forth. At this point the painter interrupted, declaring that "the cobbler should not judge beyond the sandals." (Ultra crepidam means "beyond the sandal" in Latin.)

This story is also the source of the proverb, "the cobbler should stick to his last" ("last" being the term for a shoemaker's pattern).

In contemporary parlance, ultracrepidarians are "armchair quarterbacks."

To use it in a sentence: Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach; those who can’t teach, ultracrepidate on internet message boards.


  1. I wish, that I had learned this word a long time ago

  2. I wish, that I had learned this word a long time ago!