Shit Grad Students Say
December 10, 2016 6:00 AM   Subscribe

Can you think of any tropes that grad students (and tenured professors!) in the humanities like to use? For example, compound words like post-Xism, meta-Xism, ur-X, X-ification, X-ization; clichéd verbs like "let me problematize/queer/deconstruct X"; theoretical clichés like the Panopticon, performativity, the rhizome; hackneyed phrases like "the neoliberal era" or "under late capitalism"; etc.
posted by dontjumplarry to Education (39 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
When I was taking grad classes in English about 5 years ago, the verb-of-the-moment was "unpack." As in "Let me unpack this [metaphor, poem, discussion]" I kept wanting to scream "It's not a suitcase!"

When I was an undergrad a few years before that, all the TAs and profs kept talking about "agency," but in grad school, "agency" was passé. So I imagine this slang changes pretty quickly. I haven't heard any of your example phrases/words , for instance. I was involved in the English/comparative lit world from 2003-2011.
posted by basalganglia at 6:16 AM on December 10, 2016 [9 favorites]

'Shifting the paradigm' not as popular as it once was.
posted by biffa at 6:20 AM on December 10, 2016 [2 favorites]

"Let's complicate that...." or "I'd like to complicate that by...."

Playing gotcha with laypeople about Marxist versus marxist versus marxian versus marxiste.
posted by Frowner at 6:20 AM on December 10, 2016 [4 favorites]

Using "ressentiment" when you would be better served by saying "resentment".

I think the main thing is the dynamic, rather than the language - conversations should be understood as endless capping, you always need to "complicate" what the other person says in such a way as to suggest that they're a bit simple and you always need to probe for weakness or imprecise language. So if someone does say something with an interesting thrust but you disagree with them, you can derail the conversation by avoiding their main point and instead focusing on how they said "marxist" when they should have said "marxian", etc. You never have a "yes, and" conversation as a comp lit grad student.

This is not nearly so true true in the sciences, IME.
posted by Frowner at 6:25 AM on December 10, 2016 [18 favorites]

I have been out of teaching for a lot of years, but from what I see now and then, the newer tropes will refer to "data" and to "evolution, "as an attempt by students and critics to aling themselves with the grow in prestige in the sciences.
posted by Postroad at 6:40 AM on December 10, 2016 [2 favorites]

I used to joke that there was a point in my English PhD when everyone moved away from talking in a super-complicated way and using jargon nonstop to being kind of deceptively simple in an even more annoying way. In seminar, this took the form of staying silent for most of the hour and then sighing, leaning back, and saying: "I've been thinking a lot about 'NOUN' lately," in a way that suggested that the major problem with the current state of academic discourse was that nobody else had ever bothered to spend time thinking about NOUN.

The simpler and more obvious the noun was, the better. Then you'd trail off and stare at the ceiling and leave your audience to try and comprehend the extraordinary complexity about your thoughts about NOUN, and worrying that their understanding of NOUN was embarrassingly undertheorized.

"I've been thinking a lot about 'time' lately..."

"I've been thinking a lot about 'scale' lately..."

"I've been thinking a lot about 'objects' lately..."

The best and most absurd example of this I ever encountered in real life was when a girl spoke up in colloquium and said:

"I've been thinking a lot about mollusks lately..."

What was she thinking about mollusks? What ground-breaking redefinition of this simple concept was she brewing in that giant brain of hers? I still think about that, and wonder.
posted by pretentious illiterate at 6:48 AM on December 10, 2016 [59 favorites]

I'm not sure if this entirely fits but I was at a conference this week and I think I heard "(thought) silos", "intersectionality, and "recognizing that.." More times than I could count over the 3 days.
posted by raccoon409 at 8:04 AM on December 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

Try to say "liminal" a lot.
posted by mikek at 8:20 AM on December 10, 2016 [5 favorites]

posted by k8t at 8:26 AM on December 10, 2016 [3 favorites]

Performative. Conflating.
posted by Obscure Reference at 8:40 AM on December 10, 2016 [2 favorites]

Replace "people" with "folks"
posted by pseudostrabismus at 8:43 AM on December 10, 2016 [6 favorites]

You might like this: Academic Sentence Generator.
posted by dizziest at 8:44 AM on December 10, 2016 [5 favorites]

How about non-verbal academic clichés?
posted by col_pogo at 8:52 AM on December 10, 2016 [5 favorites]

I heard "inscribed" a lot for a bit there-- as in the politics of XYZ are inscribed on women's bodies.
posted by oflinkey at 9:35 AM on December 10, 2016 [2 favorites]

Foreground (verb). Remember to foreground things, a lot.
posted by Atrahasis at 9:38 AM on December 10, 2016 [4 favorites]

The anything turn. The material turn, the performative turn, etc.
posted by bluebird at 9:47 AM on December 10, 2016 [3 favorites]

I'm a fan of bullet biting: "Are you willing to bite that bullet?", "Your account has bitten so many bullets that I'm worried it can no longer stand."

There's a Twitter account for things like this in Philosophy. I'll highlight what I've found to be some of the more prominent ones.

"___ is where all the metaphysical action is."
"I must be missing something, because I'm just not feeling the pull of your worry."
"That's just not something that they have in their toolbox."
"There's a literature on this."
"The account gets kind of hand-wavy at this point."
"I've lost track of the dialectic."
"I guess I'm just not quite sure what the ontological payoff is yet."
"Of course that’s true, but only in the *technical* sense."
"We may not be disagreeing much here."
"I'm having a hard time getting the initial intuition going."
"Once he’s admitted that, his account just collapses into the standard view."
"I’m still trying to get a handle on what work your second premiss is doing exactly."

I think I'd be guaranteed to hear at least one of these every week.

Not sure if this is exactly what you're looking for. These, while cliches of the trade you might say, generally serve a genuine purpose, and aren't meaningless or incorrect use of language.
posted by Dalby at 9:50 AM on December 10, 2016 [6 favorites]

Pronouncing 'genre' the French way.
posted by Ragged Richard at 10:24 AM on December 10, 2016 [2 favorites]

The duality of, the binary in, the double nature of, the polarity with, the twoness inherent, black and white specificality - these are things I hear cultural anthropologists say.
posted by oceanjesse at 10:36 AM on December 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

"I want to unpack..."

"I want to tease out..."

"I'd like to complicate the idea of..."

"I want to problematize the concept of..."

Pronouncing words from other languages (especially French ones) with the pronunciation of that language, even if the word got co-opted into English millennia ago.
posted by synecdoche at 10:38 AM on December 10, 2016 [9 favorites]

Well, "bad infinities" seem to be everywhere these days... well at least in Hegelian circles.

There is also a lot of "archaeologies" and "genealogies" around and a certain emphasis on the noun forms of the modal verbs. - ie "necessity", "contingency", "potentiality" etc.
posted by mary8nne at 10:40 AM on December 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

Uber uber uber, that's all I hear, makes me gag. (I keep hearing Deutschland uber alles, but I'm dating myself.)
posted by mareli at 10:59 AM on December 10, 2016 [2 favorites]

posted by Postroad at 11:47 AM on December 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

posted by PinkMoose at 12:42 PM on December 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

"_[group of people]_ are not univocal"
posted by ananci at 1:15 PM on December 10, 2016 [3 favorites]

Three from Friday's symposium: Object Oriented Ontology, Vital Materialism and Post-Humanism. Blend all three and simmer gently until thoroughly Desedimented.
posted by Chairboy at 1:46 PM on December 10, 2016 [4 favorites]

Oh, and Unsettling as a verb.
posted by Chairboy at 1:48 PM on December 10, 2016 [4 favorites]

posted by ikahime at 2:14 PM on December 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

"-making" as in place-making, dilemma-making, problem-making, etc.
posted by mortaddams at 2:34 PM on December 10, 2016 [4 favorites]

posted by brushtailedphascogale at 5:18 PM on December 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

Pronouncing 'genre' the French way.

OK, I'll bite. How else are you supposed to pronounce it? JEAN-rah?
posted by praemunire at 10:08 PM on December 10, 2016 [2 favorites]

"In conversation with" as in "my work is in conversation with X" or "Benjamin is in conversation with X, Y, and Z here"

"Trans" may be applied to any and all descriptors

"Problematic" as in "I feel like that reading is problematic because it doesn't take into account blah blah blah"

"Free food in the lounge"

and the inevitable "please remove your food from the fridge in the lounge"
posted by Miss T.Horn at 11:40 PM on December 10, 2016 [5 favorites]

The Onion, whose staff probably has more than its fair share of former grad students, loves this trope:

Grad Student Deconstructs Take-Out Menu
"Seeing this long list of traditional Mexican foods—burritos, tacos, tamales—with a price attached to each caused me to reflect on the means by which capitalist society consumes and subsumes ethnicity, turning tradition into mass-marketable 'product' bleached of its original 'authentic' identity," Rosenblatt said. "And yet, it is still marketed and sold by the dominant power structure in society as 'authentic' experience, informed by racist myths and projections of 'otherness' onto the blank canvas of the alien culture."
Giant Cockroach In Bathroom 'A Harrowing, Kafkaesque Experience,' Grad Student Says
Edelstein called the cockroach "a deeply disturbing symbol of the alienation and pain seemingly inherent in every aspect of modern grad-student life." What's worse, he said, the enormous insect so paralyzed him with "intense, soul-searing fear" that he was unable to kill it before it escaped down the drain.
And one of my favorite Point/Counterpoint debate columns:

Darling, I Will Give You The Moon And The Stars
by an English grad student


Giving Me The Moon And Stars Would Have Disastrous Effects On Our Galaxy
by a Physics grad student

posted by Rhaomi at 12:47 AM on December 11, 2016 [6 favorites]

Texts, discourses, formations, and subjectivities (note the plural: that's important). Xs that "reinscribe the boundaries they pretend to erase." Conference papers that overuse the discursive formation "in this paper, I want to ..." Xs that "reify," "ramify," "metastasise," "inflect," or "effect." (Note: never use "affect" as a verb when you can use "effect" instead. The effect (heh) is subtler and more bamboozling.) Meanings that are always [verbed] in some complex or indirect way. "Inflect" or "effect" are good here. They're good verbs for papering over the fact that you're not sure how X and Y are related exactly, but that they come together in some way to mean something. Something significant, or even better, something that "signifies." If you're dealing with someone who's been writing funding bids lately, you may find them overusing the word "impact."
posted by Sonny Jim at 4:32 AM on December 11, 2016 [2 favorites]

"The ways in which" remains my pet annoying academic phrase; it's perfectly legitimate English but usually people just mean "how."

"Tarry with" seems to show up mostly in Commonwealth academic writing.

"Interrogate" shows up a lot still - the semantic implications are a lot harsher than what's usually intended.
posted by aspersioncast at 8:27 PM on December 11, 2016 [2 favorites]

The phrase "low hanging fruit" is incredibly overused in my gradschool/postdoc experience.
posted by Cygnet at 6:39 AM on December 12, 2016

Reify is the word I think of as most jargony. Hegemony and hegemonic are big ones, too.
posted by ocherdraco at 5:27 AM on December 13, 2016

Discursive Formations. Taxonomies of x. In Dialogue With x. Bonus points for dropping in either a Dialogic or a Dialogical. Mega bonus points for doing so and actually knowing who Mikhail Bakhtin is.

And of course Meta-x

I'll get my coat...
posted by Chairboy at 6:26 AM on December 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

OK, I'll bite. How else are you supposed to pronounce it? JEAN-rah?

Man, this is going to be hard to write out, but I'll try. Most English speakers pronounce the word genre something like "jon-rah." However, a few of my grad school profs/students would pronounce it as though they were speaking french, as just "jon."
posted by Ragged Richard at 10:14 AM on December 13, 2016

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