Deconstructing the Deconstructionist: Graduate School Lingo I Cannot Tolerate


All industries have their insider lingo. When I worked in publishing, we frequently burned huge piles of books while shouting, “DIE, WITCH, DIE,” but all it meant was, “Looks like we’re gonna be a little late on the print run this month.” When I worked at Starbucks, I would yell “DON’T YOU JUST HATE ALL THESE YUPPIES SO MUCH RIGHT NOW?” across the crowded cafe and whoever was manning the espresso machine would nod and say, “Double tall latte, got it.” I myself have my own insider lingo that only I am privy too, so anytime you think I’m insulting you to your face, I’m probably just indicating my desire to rewatch How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days (my favorite movie ever).

But, my dear ones, while I do love a good romp in the linguistic fields every now and then—bro lingo, biddy lingo, lowbrow lingo, Kreayshawn lingo, euphemistic Shakespearean lingo—there is one type of lingo that I absolutely cannot and will not deal with: the nefarious thornfield of pretension that is Grad School Speak. I mean, I try to sound as terribly smart in class as the next guy, and I usually accomplish this by referencing specific outfits featured on Gossip Girl and then adding the phrase “…as Foucault grapples with in his Illuminations,” but even I have my limits.

Here are the top 6 offenders in my book (“book” being insider lingo for “a thing that truly smart people use to prop up the corner of their walnut dining room table”):

 Offender: “…troubles the notion of…”

Example: “The offensively bright yellow font on this bag of Doritos troubles the notion of consumption in grayscale.”

I’m sorry, what was that? Did you just use unnecessarily high-brow syntax to tell me that SOME THINGS ARE DIFFERENT THAN OTHER THINGS AND NOT EVERYTHING JIVES WITH EVERYTHING ELSE? Because I was pretty sure that I lived in a homogeneous, trouble-free world! I am so confused right now! Don’t we all get along no matter what? Isn’t everything perfect?

Offender: “…the act of…”

Example: “the act of consumption” “the act of discrimination” “the act of alienation”

God has given us a gift, my friends, a gift called Verbs. Verbs are already actions! You don’t need to turn them into nouns and then remind us that they’re actions! Unless…you’re purposefully padding your language as a way to compensate for the fact that the world is run by lean mean killing machine alpha males in finance who don’t appreciate what you do?! I get it, really. But come on.

Offender: “…calls into crisis…”

Example: “The concept of a ‘flavored’ snack chip calls into crisis the privileged Western notion of corn as the ultimate bland food group.”

A ‘crisis’ is something like a hurricane, an earthquake, or the fact that Anthropologie canceled my shoe order (don’t worry, I fixed the problem, I will have those boots). There is no crisis happening here. Don’t words mean anything anymore?

 Offender: “…the space of…”

Example: “Calvino works within the space of the traditional fantasy oeuvre in order to both subvert and manipulate the troubling notion of ‘other’ selves.”

My hatred of this phrase stems from a little peoplegroup I like to call “theater majors at Northwestern University.” Oh, you’re working within the space of the black box? Your character’s emotional problems originate within the space of the domestic sphere? Shakespeare just died a second death. Unfortunately, this insidious phrase is a popular one in the grad school classroom, so, if anything, my quality of life has deteriorated from those troubled days as an undergrad until now. The phrase is entirely redundant, people. Unless you’re talking about literal space, I don’t want to hear it.

Offender: “the Other”

Example: everything ever written about humans (and especially stuff about Caliban)

Ugh, do we honestly have to capitalize it?

 Offender: the terrible format of academic paper titles*

Example: “Snappy Opening Phrase: Huge Academic-Sounding Word and Huge Academic-Sounding Word in Specific Text and the Problem of Something That’s Not Actually a Huge Issue.”

I tried to title my last paper “Monsterz in Ur Closet!!!!” but everyone shunned me for six hundred and sixty-six days so I had to change it to “The Beast Within: Metaaural Dissonance and the Question of the Deformed Other in Feminine Domestic Habiliment-Centric Space.”

*I know this academic-paper joke has been made before but I HAVE TO CRAWL BEFORE I CAN SOAR, OKAY?



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