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31 March 2010 @ 09:30 pm
neologisms, ontology, and the vocabulary of the poststructuralist academic  
Anyone know anywhere I can get a primer on academic words? I don't know if it was simply that I've spent the last couple of nights up till 2 reading for my classes or what, but this afternoon it seemed like every word out of my professors mouth was a set of vocabulary that I still don't understand.  And my most horrifying secret:  even after using the following word in my own work (or variations of), i am still not precisely clear on what it means.

ontology.  ontological.  defined as:
The science or study of being; that department of metaphysics which relates to the being or essence of things, or to being in the abstract.
The branch of metaphysics concerned with the nature and relations of being.

So what does it mean to talk about an author who is trying to be ontological?  Or proposing a new ontology?  (ok, the second one I can do, but the first one?)

and since I'm looking up words, neologism:
a newly invented word or phrase / newly discovered term or meaning

We were talking about Philip Dick's The Man In The High Castle and William Gibson's Neuromancer, and while I'm certainly willing to get on the high horse right along with everyone who suggests we can't dismiss either one of these words as simply pulp novels not worth the paper they're printed on, the ability to deploy this kind of vocabulary?  I've lost it.  Sometimes I'm fairly certain that I'd never had it. 

Now, don't get me wrong.  I think one of the most fascinating things about cyberpunk is that it does cram a whole lot of new meanings into half recognizable words.  And frankly, now that I've looked up what neologism means, I'm willing to say they're creating them all the time.  But its as if I missed a class somewhere, where they handed out the sheet that contained all of this terminology. I can talk sign / signifier / referent, I can talk proletariat / bourgeois (at least to a certain degree), I can talk subject / Other..... why, then, do I feel like a babe in the woods everytime someone opens their mouths in this class?

Oh well, no time for worrying.  I have a Japanese test tomorrow instead.
Elite Nerd Patrol, On Duty: shcoolmechassninja on April 1st, 2010 06:11 am (UTC)
oh god, this is how i feel all the time. my first semester here i walked into a very advanced gender and women's studies course full of people writing their dissertations in that field. i swear i only understood about 25% of the words coming out of their mouths, it was horrible.

and now i use lots of pretty words in my papers but i have no idea what they actually mean. if you find said academic word primer, please fwd it to me.

my monkied brain: b/g - in the librarykatekat1010 on April 1st, 2010 06:30 am (UTC)
the part that's killing me is that i feel like I should be able to use it right? GAH.

if i find it, i will totally send it to you. maybe we should keep a list and fill in definitions as we can? i feel like every other word out of my advisor's mouth is basically terminology of some kind.
hawera on April 1st, 2010 09:46 am (UTC)
I have a theory that if one thoroughly understands what one is trying to say, one can say it simply without loads of jargon.

I think academics use jargon so much because they think it will make them sound more impressive. When I was doing jurisprudence I decided that a lot of them worked on the theory that they should not use one short word where ten long ones would do.
my monkied brain: b/g - in the librarykatekat1010 on April 1st, 2010 04:04 pm (UTC)
On the one hand I agree with you - most academics are intent on using words that do not have the same kinds of meanings for the general public and so their speach becomes borderline incomprehensible... the only problem is that it's my advisor who is doing it and I kind of need to know what she's saying. Also, although it's frustrating and some people do it because it makes them sound more impressive, it's also useful to be able to shorthand certain concepts by using these words and the people i'm working with right now are able to speak across a variety of registers, so i don't think they're trying to show off to me. knowing what they're short-handing would be immensely helpful, particularly in class. Your contention stands -- if I thoroughly understood what was being said, I would understand the jargon and be able to translate it.
literate and stylish: smart is sexy! Indy!mishloran on April 1st, 2010 10:18 am (UTC)
Alas, I cannot help. But, as someone who spent at least 2 sides of her dissertation explaining 'male', 'female', 'homosexual' 'heterosexual', 'gender' and 'sex' (etc) I can completely sympathise.


My introduction was 11 pages long. So eleven pages! And I remember that I got told I should have looked at a couple of parts of that in more detail. Riiiiiight. !!

Also I used 'heteronormative' Oooo, big words.

And that is what it boils down to "ooo big words". Almost all academics do actually think like this, too. (And those who don't probably need to take their heads out of their arses, I would hypothesize?)

I always thought ontological meant something like "I think it exists, therefore it must exist somewhere"? But I think that knowledge comes from the remnants of philosophy knowledge? As a buzzword 'a priori' (before [knowledge]) also rings a bell... hmm.
my monkied brainkatekat1010 on April 1st, 2010 04:07 pm (UTC)
LOL, i know, right? And I've been struggling with the point of my studies lately (you know, that 'why are we here if we're only going to be writing on something that half a dozen people are going to be able to read and understand' thingy) which does not help. But I want to move between the registers, you know? Especially if my advisor is the one who is proposing these questions that I can't even parse to begin to respond to because I'm still stuck on 'huh? WTF is she asking?'

and i think you might be right about one of the definitions, but when one is using the word as an adjective instead of a noun, it slides into something else that I can't quite figure out.
Taraelementalv on April 1st, 2010 11:03 am (UTC)
Don't look at me. I'm still trying to come up with a firm meaning of "meta" as used by fandom. I doubt I'll ever understand academic dialect.
my monkied brainkatekat1010 on April 1st, 2010 04:08 pm (UTC)
I just wish there was a translator, you know? I have a translator for japanese, there should be a translator for words I should know in English.
(Deleted comment)
my monkied brainkatekat1010 on April 1st, 2010 04:12 pm (UTC)
Yes, exactly!! I think I missed some crucial theory somewhere (but I'm afraid that it might be Of Grammatology or something and I don't want to have to go back and read that - it scarred me in undergrad).

A glossary of lit crit terms WOULD BE UNSPEAKABLY AWESOME! This is exactly what I need!!!!!! do you have any idea where i could get one? i was looking on amazon last night at a couple of books (but they were on film terms, not on lit crit terms, even though there's a bunch of crossover)

I completely agree with you though - it's not a case of 'ooo, big shiny word' either - my advisor is *saying things she means* when she uses these words. And my classmates too. And they're kind of awesome. But right now I'm kind of limping along behind them getting this stuff from context not from actually knowing, you know?

It's funny, because I think of academic vocab as a kind of nexus, where when one word is thrown out there it's like a flash of light that illuminates a whole corner of theory, you know? And my problem right now is just that I don't know which corners. I've been doing theory, just not the *right* theory.
whichclotheswhichclothes on April 1st, 2010 02:43 pm (UTC)
Academic-speak becomes horribly addictive. Last week I was being interviewed by a newspaper reporter and I caught mysel actually using the word "hegemony." Ack!
my monkied brainkatekat1010 on April 1st, 2010 04:12 pm (UTC)
OOO no that's good!! I just finished Gramsci and I want to throw hegemony around like nobody's business.
whichclotheswhichclothes on April 1st, 2010 04:33 pm (UTC)
It frgithened me a little to hear it come out of my mouth. ;-) I was just slightly thankful the reporter didn't use that particular quote in the article!
brutti_ma_buonibrutti_ma_buoni on April 1st, 2010 05:44 pm (UTC)
We have a senior guy at the office who likes to say ontology. Fortunately, we are not academics and are allowed to groan quietly/throw things when he does, depending on our own level of seniority.

I've been very wary of academicese since the shining day when I realised dialectical materialism (or at least the dialectic bit) basically means saying 'X says/does this; Y says/does that; I suggest that Z, there are bits of good in both arguments/activities'. So, compromise, basically.

I like neologism. I'll give you syllogism for free - looking at two related statements and drawing an unwarranted conclusion. Dare you to use it next seminar! [Especially at anyone who says ontology...]

1. Dogs have four legs.
2. My cat has four legs.
3. Therefore my dog is a cat.

Or, to quote an old, wise TV show over here, the politician's syllogism - when confronted with a crisis/public outcry/societal ill:
1. We must *do* something!
2. This is *something*!
3. Therefore we must do this.

After which, the electorate does a collective *headdesk*.