Tuesday, September 27, 2011

A short rant about stupid academic titles

All right, listen up, all of you who want to host a conference or organize a panel to showcase your own work, but can't really justify other people's presences except to validate you.  Also, all of you professors who have vague and inchoate ideas of what might constitute a reading group on subject X, and don't have the guts to admit that they're brand-new to the field of inquiry and will need to reduce themselves to MA-candidate level just to begin their reading.  Finally, all of you who want to publish your unexciting (if not actually half-assed) research and don't want to own up to its modest contribution to human knowledge:

Every one of you motherfuckers has to stop inventing bullshit titles like these:

Verby noun, nouny verb: Abusing the English language without mercy

Fucking stupid, stupidly fucking: A history of one-night stands

Asshole of the gods, God of the assholes: Dane Cook in context

Academic jizzing, jizzing on academia: I needed to write something on my travel reimbursement form, didn't I, jackhole?

All y'all ain't fooling no one, as the locals around here might put it.*  These stupid-ass would-be puns are the lazy and confused academician's way to try to tart up an unexciting, uninspired idea.  I've known this for years, but I'm especially aggravated about it lately, when an inexplicable bumper crop of them has littered my email inbox.  The unifying factor in them appears to be the author's unwillingness to say out loud, "I haven't yet worked through all the ideas here, and I cannot claim any authoritative voice here, but I want to enter into the conversation and do what I can."  It wouldn't fucking kill you to be a little humble about your position as a scholar, would it?  You will not dissolve into a puddle of ooze by admitting that you don't know as much as you want to about a given subject, and that is why you want to form a reading group of your peers.  You will not spontaneously combust if you give your unsexy but perfectly respectable conference talk a useful indexical title, a la Analyzing official correspondence between junior Episcopalian clergy in 1820s England.  Yeah, it sounds a little dry, but no one actually sits through a conference panel to be dazzled by CNN-style sensationalism.  You'll just have to trust that the interested parties will remember to gulp their coffee beforehand, and you'll have to work up the courage to ignore the senior scholars who drift off into a gentle, snoring doze after ten minutes. 

And here is the most damning part of all.  All of those faux-clever reversals of words that you think will justify your departmental expense accounts and seduce journal readers?  To the best of my knowledge – literature scholars, please correct me as necessary – those are all a type of rhetorical device called antimetabole.  Do you know with whom all of us who are older than, say, thirty associate with antimetabole?


I hope I have made my point clear.

*I mean, if they gave a goddamn about education past the age of seven.


  1. Hey, I like making titles with stupid puns and reversals! Some of us just have terrible senses of taste! I thought academia was the wild-game preserve for us --- after all, if we're not safe to use gerunds and postmodern paren(the)ses here, where can we?

  2. Oh man, do I love me some Russian reversals...In Soviet Russia, fool pities YOU. (Ok, I'm done.)

    Your post reminds me of this old gem: http://www.phdcomics.com/comics/archive.php?comicid=718