Still More Terrible Terms

Adding to previous posts about academic jargon, as per student requests, here are some of Prof Trevor Findlay’s vocabulary no-nos. In his own words:

My biggest gripe is about the misuse of the term ‘international anarchy’. Rather than taking this as a term used by one theoretical school, traditional Realists, to drive home its worldview, there is a tendency to use it as if it were true. In fact common sense, the experience we all have of international affairs (for instance when we travel abroad or make an international phone call) and the actual discipline of international relations itself all illustrate that international affairs is far from anarchic, but highly ordered and regulated. Indeed a common complaint about global governance is that it is starting to over-regulate international relations. Anarchy in the international system is only relative.

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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

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The Tyranny of Terrible Terms

Lots of people complain about jargon in academia.  I tend to focus on conceptual stretching–that a term gets used to apply to more and more stuff so that it loses its essence.  My favorite example is imperialism–what is and is not imperialist?  Damned if I know.

I had a sudden realization when reading this piece that has a similar take on neo-liberalism what is a larger dynamic that separates useful phrases embodying bounded concepts from overly stretched labels that have lost their meaning: when a word is hurled as an insult by one set of intellectuals at others, the term has lost its value.

I am not sure what neo-liberal means because it already had different meanings depending on whether one was talking about International Relations Theory, economic policy, and whatever else.  But now it is a way to label folks with whom one disagrees.  And poof, whatever use of the concept is gone.

Another kind of example is how the “War on Poverty” and such has now become the war on everything, where it is mostly value-less (war on Christmas).

What are other examples of formerly useful words/concepts that gone down this path from useful to insult to meaningless?

By Steve Saideman