More Terrible Terms

Yesterday, Steve Saideman posted about the bits of academic jargon he hates most. The post proved to be pretty popular. My guess is that with term papers pending, advice about what terms are best avoided was pretty welcome. Therefore, in the spirit of holiday giving, here is a similar list provided by Prof David Carment:

  • Tipping point
  • The perfect storm
  • Going forward
  • All things considered
  • Glocal

  • The great equalizer
  • Webinar
  • Organic beer
  • Organic anything
  • Shock and awe
  • Surge
  • Chocolate is the new sex
  • 70’s are the new 50s
  • Commit sociology
  • Throw under the bus
  • Twitterati (or should that be twitteratzi?)

Being very new to teaching as a (lowly and beggarly) PhD Candidate/Contract Instructor, I have yet to develop the bitter resentment towards certain words that come with experience and tenure. Instead, what gets my goat is when academic jargon, in general, is used in an essay as salt would be on bland food since sprinkling it about in excessive amounts does more to confuse than illuminate.

For example, I recently read an op-ed that, if I had to guess what it was about, I’d say it was on human security. The problem being that that a reader should never have to guess what an article is about, particularly when it’s posted on a reputable news site and written by a professor who is a big name in the field of security, human and otherwise (notice the lack of a hyperlink to the article because I’m too cowardly to pick a cyber-fight with Prof. BigName).

Jargon was the source of my confusion. In one short article, the author used the terms “human security,” “human rights,” “Responsibility to Protect,” and “human development.” While all of these terms are in some way related to one another, they seemed, at times, to be used as synonyms. They are not synonyms!!

The inappropriate use of these terms pushed me into a good and proper nerd rage. I googled the author, who I was convinced was a know-nothing, only to find out that he/she is a knows-everything. This led me to conclude that the fastest way to tank a good argument is an over-reliance on jargon. In hindsight, based on reputation, there is no reason for me to believe that the author confused one term for another. The unfortunate truth, however, is that is how his/her argument came across, all due to shoving multiple, weighty terms into a ~750 word piece.

In sum, an over-reliance on jargon leads to confusion and nerd rage on the part of the reader. This is particularly problematic when said reader is assigning your grades.

By David Carment and Stephanie Soiffer

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