"In many disciplines, for the majority of graduates, the Ph.D. indicates the logical conclusion of an academic career." Marc Bousquet

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

For the Love of Words

No wonder so many nonacademic employers view post-academics with distrust when it comes to writing. Even though academics produce a lot of prose, they tend to bloat it with static verbs and meaningless filler. How else do you get a sentence like the following from a scholarly article about a novel:
Many _______________ argue, then, that it is not so much the difference between ________ and _________ that is at fault in our _____________, as the way in which that difference has been used as a justification for __________________________.
You and I have both read much, MUCH worse (remember the academic sentence generator from this old post?), but this sentence reads like a template. I left out identifying words, but you could fill in almost anything in those blanks and plunk it down in the literature review in your article.

ZzzzzZZZZzzzzzzZZZzz. How boring! I'm asleep already and there are another thirty pages to go. In case you are wondering, I'm reading the article to catch up on where the "field" is at before writing the paper for that stupid conference I'm supposed to present at next month. (Note: I have NOT reserved a hotel room or booked a flight yet. What does that tell you?)

Really, I am still engaged with the subject of my paper and have read a handful of sources that have kept my attention. Nonetheless, I cannot escape bad academic writing. It abounds. It makes me embarrassed for my discipline. True, we taught something resembling templates in the freshman comp classes at Grad U to help students understand the rhetorical moves writers and speakers make, but the goal, after they'd practiced using the templates, was to have them make those same rhetorical moves in their own ways, to speak in their own voices.

It may have gone out of fashion in academe, but I still believe you cannot separate content from form. We are what we eat. You are what you speak.

I hope those of us who've had the clarity of mind to leave academe will also leave our bad habits behind. Outside academe, if you can write about complex things in clear and concise language, without reductively treating your subject yet without wasting words, you can call yourself a writer, people will respect you, and they will read what you write. Inside academe, unfortunately, everybody is a "writer," whether anyone reads what you write or not, and if you can obscure simplicity in arcane and turgid language, muddling your subject and bloating your sentences, then you can call yourself not only a writer but a scholar, too!

Haha. Ahem. Hmmmmph.

I love words. Have I mentioned that before? Not everyone in  academe does, especially literature people. Some of them hate words. Don't ask me what they're doing in academe. In some cases, it's their only opportunity to posture at being hipster intellectuals, carrying around heavy books, wearing black, drinking too much, chain smoking, looking down on everything and everyone. Or, at the opposite end, you have the frumpy dumpies. The ones who forget their glasses in the freezer and wear mismatched socks. They NEED something obscure to hide behind. Or be buried under.

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But I love nekkid words, my peoplz, sexxxy and unruly words!!! I love words that misbehave with grace, words that tumble like Olympic gymnasts, flip and twirl and cartwheel and balance perfectly, even upside down.

I love free and easy words dancing beneath my fingers, appearing on my screen and yours all at once!

(That's where you're supposed to say "Awwwwwwwww, we love you, too, recent Ph.D.!")

Happy Valentine's Day, friends! Here's some luuuuuv art from the streets of Crapitol City:

1 comment:

  1. Nice blog. As a lover of words you might be interested in the word play involved in cryptic crosswords. I am doing a series of posts on solving cryptic clues. This was the first one I did. http://caroleschatter.blogspot.co.nz/2012/01/cryptic-crosswords-solving-hints-1.html Hope you enjoy.