Ultracrepidarianism and the pub bore…

I was in the pub having a quiet pint and as you do, caught the end of a most peculiar conversation. Man (a) was talking to man (b). Man (b) was attempting to reply but with some of the most bizarre replies possible. No offence to the fellow involved but it led me to consider the word ultracrepidarianism

Ultracrepidarianism is giving opinions on subjects that you know nothing about, and is a wonderfully useful word. Ultracrepidarian was introduced into English by the all round pedant and spectacularly gloomy essayist William Hazlitt, when he wrote a ferocious letter to William Gifford the editor of The Quarterly Review “You have been well called an Ultra-Crepidarian critic”  but its origins go back to our old chum Pliny in his Naturalis Historia (XXXV, 85)   when he recounts a tale about the famous Greek painter Apelles.

The story goes that Apelles was in the habit of  leaving his new paintings out on public display and then hide behind a pillar to hear people’s reactions. One day he overheard a cobbler pointing out that Apelles had painted a shoe all wrong. So he took the painting away, corrected the shoe and put it out on display again.

The cobbler came back, saw that Apelles had taken his advice and was so proud and puffed up with conceit that he had made the great painter change a detail that he started talking loudly about what was wrong with the leg; at which point Apelles jumped out from his hiding place and shouted: ne sutor ultra crepidam, which approximately translates as the cobbler should go no further than the shoe. Thus ultracrepidiarian is beyond-the-shoe.

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