Academic Buzz Words: Use Them to Sound Smart

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In the realm of the academic elite, I have begun to notice the horrible habit of self-inflation that comes in the form of the academic buzz word. The most mundane issues suddenly seem to have ‘postmodern’ or ‘postcolonial’ meanings, and somehow Gabriel Garcia Marquez is no longer a writer, but a sorcerer of the ‘magical realism’ genre.
I myself spent the summer studying the modernist writer James Joyce and I plan to write my senior thesis on narratology and the discourse of exile in Joyce’s ‘Ulysses.’ But as I learn more about the world of academics, pretentious academic jargon (for instance, my last sentence) often seems to ring hollow.
As I was scanning the Los Angeles Times a few weeks ago, I came across a DVD review that threw out the term ‘post-postfeminism’ in the context of a ‘chick flick’ movie. After skimming the article on my way to class, I could find no explanation for the bizarre phrase used on the cover. It was catchy, it seemed to be saying something important, but I could not, for the life of me, figure out what post-postfeminism meant.
To detangle the meaning of this term, you would first have to define what feminism is, when it ended, when postfeminism started, and when that ended and changed into post-postfeminism.
When did it become OK to use huge, convoluted words to replace intelligent explanation?
The reality is that a person using this term probably has no idea of what they are talking about, or trying to convey. Or, if they do, they are assuming that everyone else will be able to easily understand the multiple definitions that went into creating the word. So why use it?
Unfortunately, many of these terms are necessary in order to talk about a time period or concept more easily than listing everyone or everything involved.
For instance: Yes, using the term ‘modernism’ when talking about literature helps me to understand who is being discussed. At the same time, the modernist writers are all distinct, which makes it difficult to define when the movement ended.
Since there are conflicting ideas about when modernist literature ended, you would then think that it would be hard to call something ‘postmodern,’ which is unfortunately not the case. In fact, the term postmodern flies around so often, and in so many of my classes (mostly between students) that I really have no idea what people are talking about half the time.
So, if you are guilty of using huge words to cover the fact that you haven’t read for a class in a week, just know that I’m on to you. These terms are appropriate in a few, select situations, but they should not be used as an ego boost, or in a way that confuses people into believing what you are saying. They categorize and alienate in a way that should make any broad-minded person cringe.
Deconstruct that.

Jessica Morreale is a fourth-year literary journalism major.

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