The sentence reads:

It is wise for most didactic people to heed the warning, timed to George Bernard Shaw’s death, that the world rewards gadflies, but only a few, with those usually chosen because, like Shaw, they tempered morality with wit.

I have three questions: first, what's the meaning of "timed to one's death"; second, since being didactic is to be warned, why does the world reward, instead of punishing, gadflies which commonly represent didactic people; third, what's the subject of the latter half of the sentence? Is it "a few" or "they"? In other words, I don't see a verb matching "a few".

2 Answers 2


Didactic people: People who try to teach. In context, it is people who try to teach others to be ethical.

Timed to the death. This warning was first given shortly after Shaw's death, and perhaps in a eulogy to Shaw.

Gadflies. Literally biting flies, here metaphorically it means people who are annoying or frustrating.

The world rewards gadflies, but only a few. A few annoying people who keep reminding us of ethical facts will become famous (like Shaw)

Tempered morality with wit. A metaphor, meaning to improve the quality of the morality by adding wit. Those few annoying people who the world does reward are likely to be those who don't just tell us to behave but do so in a way that makes us laugh. Again, Shaw is the example of a person who annoyed us, but did so in a way that was funny, and so was rewarded with fame.


"Few" here refers to "gadflies". The key point of the paragraph is that the world respects people who give moral warnings, but only some of them. A person who gives moral warnings with "wit", that is, with humor and/or cleverness, is respected, or at least tolerated. But a person who is too harsh in his criticisms is resented.

"Didactic" refers to something that is educational, in either an academic or moral sense. (Not necessarily "being warned".) Like an adventure movie about explorers that is full of action and excitement but also seeks to teach some geography along the way might be called "didactic".

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