Sunday, February 20, 2011

Academic Cliche Watch, Minisode 1: "Famous"

"In her famous book, Our Vampires, Ourselves (1997), Nina Aurbach writes that  . . . " etc.

This was the opening sentences of a call for papers I just received.  Maybe I'm just stupid, but I've never heard of this book, and Aurbach's name only vaguely rings a bell.  This is a classic example of some bad academic writing's tendency to make claims rather than arguments for its subject (see also: "clearly," "obviously," "crucially," "not insignificantly," "powerful," ad nauseum.)

The rest of the call was actually really interesting, but think about how this choice of words positions the reader.  Either they agree that the book is famous, and they have gained very little from having their opinion confirmed, or they, like me, have no reason to agree.  In the second case, they may either a) experience a grad-school-like pang of insecurity and scurry off to catch up on some book that an anonymous emailer claimed was famous, b) pass through the phrase gaining little from that extra F word, or c) take the writer themselves for someone so wracked by insecurity that they don't feel comfortable citing a book without simultaneously claiming that it's "famous."  In none of these scenarios does the claim that a book is famous add value.


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darknessatnoon said...

Nina AuErbach is famous. I hope you didn't participate.

David Z. Morris said...

I fully acknowledged the possibility that I'm stupid. But the same sentence without that one word would have conveyed the same information about Aurbach without belittling me for not being properly acquainted with her. The purpose of academia is to educate, not to insult the not-yet-educated (although it seems you might disagree with me on that).