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Bill Hicks takes a weekly look at the hot topics in the TES chatrooms

There's a widely held belief that chatrooms are grubby places, populated by nerds, paedophiles, nutters and other sad people; that online discussions are at best trivial, and likely to be obscene, even criminally so, but that, thank heavens, they are at least ephemeral.

One thread in the TES Staffroom's English forum demolishes every one of these prejudices, but I'm going to have to watch my grammar.

Pedants Anonymous (PA) was started at six minutes before midnight on May 10, 2002, by a poster with the delightfully old-school user name of inky.

There was no question, just an invitation to contribute.

The first response came a minute later: "Shouldn't that be 'Inky'?"

Followed by: "My name is OldCodger and I am a pedant... and I hate it when people use 'refute' when they should use 'rebut' or 'repudiate'. There, I feel better now."

Perhaps unwittingly, inky had tapped into the same rich seam of obsession that would make Lynne Truss a millionaire more than a year later when she published her punctuation best-seller Eats, Shoots Leaves.

The thread, as it gained momentum, covered many of the same issues as Ms Truss's book, but roamed far wider. Early on came a long discussion of the origins of the word pedant, with regular PA contributor Marjake being the first to reach for the OED.

As the core group of PA regulars have come to know each other and to swap tips on brewing the perfect cup of Darjeeling as well as wrestling with linguistic oddities, the thread has taken on the air of the club room of some learned society or senior common-room in an old-established university.

Contributors compete to find the worst abuses of apostrophes in advertising, the silliest acronyms and the most embarrassing literals in the media and, of course, The TES.

Celebrations of the 1,000th posting on New Year's Eve 2003 were suitably restrained and scholarly, with Papaya's "May all of us anal retentives have a very happy New Year." Then rapidly self-corrected: "Oh sugar! That should be 'May all of we... '."

Now approaching its 1,300th posting, Pedants Anonymous has become an online institution. It's not the oldest thread in the Staffroom, nor the biggest, and not the fastest-growing. But it is one of the most enjoyable. And although its furniture is almost certainly of well-worn leather, it's far from an exclusive club. Take a look yourself, entry is free.

Bill Hicks is editor of the TES website.

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