Friday Quick Take: Welcome to the Desert of the Real

Ace of Spades, trying very hard to claw himself back from the brink of irrelevance after turning his blog into the #1 Trump hate vanity site on the Right, chronicles the disillusionment of Lindsay Shepherd.  Shepherd, as you might’ve heard, was the Canadian grad student who got show-trialed for playing a Jordan Peterson clip in class.  She was actually critiquing Peterson, but whatevs — the snowflakes in the studentry complained, the snowflakes in the administration caved, and now Shepherd has publicly disavowed the Left.  Welcome to the desert of the real, Lindsay!

As the disillusioned tend to do, Shepherd is turning on her former comrades, exposing the rot.  For instance, this tweet (h/t David Thompson).  The tweet itself is unexceptional, as is the article it cites.  (When you’re in graduate school, “Tempo-rarily Fat: A Queer Exploration of Fat Time” probably won’t even crack the top 10 most ridiculous things you’ll read that week).  Rather, it’s the sad attempts at rebuttal that are worth noting.  For instance, this:

The humanity! Highly specialized academic in an article for a highly specialized journal read by similarly highly specialized academics uses highly specialized language. What has the world come to!

Followed by a quote from a technical article about nuclear reactor, and this snark:

Just look at this nonsense here. Does anybody know what that means? Can’t these people write clearly? What a disaster.

This, then, must be the hivemind’s newest defensive tactic: Pretending that ridiculous academese is actually the kind of highly technical specialist vocabulary scientists use.

We’ve been here before (see that post if you want to an attempt at translating a long slab of academese).  The important thing to note is that jargon has two legitimate functions, and one illegitimate one.  The legit ones are:

  1. communication; and
  2. to convey group membership.

The technical journal snark-boy quoted employs jargon because the jargon nuclear engineers use actually means something.  Its primary purpose is to convey information.  We laymen may not understand what “spectral rehomogenization” means, but the people who need to understand it certainly do.  And so it goes with any technical vocabulary — “transverse fracture of the third metacarpal” contains much more, and much more significant, information than a nontechnical sentence with the same word count that anyone can understand: “Dude, you broke your fuckin’ hand!”  The latter works fine for telling your bro at the bar why he shouldn’t have punched that wall; the former is necessary information for the specialist who’s trying to repair the damage.

The group membership function of jargon is often equally important.  Doctors could easily say “dude, you broke your fuckin’ hand!” when talking to patients, but they shouldn’t, because they’re doctors.  The status signal of “transverse fracture of the third metacarpal” is certainly as important, if not more important, to the patient in the ER writhing in pain (who doubtless already knows he broke his hand).  Group-signaling lingo helps maintain some boundaries that need to be maintained.

The illegitimate function of jargon — without which, the modern Ivory Tower would cease to exist — is to obfuscate.  When that article says that “fat bodies fail to ‘keep up’ with normative tempos,” the authors — and yes, it apparently took three people to come up with this — are saying “fat people are slow.”  Do we really need three people with PhDs to tell us this?  Most of us figured it out by second grade.

Here’s the article’s argument, as stated by the authors themselves:

the authors argue that subjects are only successful within heteronormative sequential temporal schemes of living if they are normatively sized and shaped

Pretty much every single word of that sentence is designed to disguise the fact that the authors’ “argument” is either a) obvious, or b) batshit insane, depending on how generous you’re feeling.  “Normative,” for example, means “establishing a baseline.”  “Heteronormative,” then, means either

  1. the blindingly obvious fact the vast majority of humanity is, and always has been, heterosexual; or
  2. the batshit insane assertion that “sequential temporal schemes” — what non-lunatics call “the passing of time” — actually makes heterosexuality the human default.

Take your pick.  Notice, too, that even the non-insane use of “normative” seems to shift over the course of a few sentences.  The second sentence of the abstract, for example, is:

Fat bodies, like normative bodies, are made meaningful in relation to normative notions of time.

Here, “normative” seems to be synonymous with “normal,” i.e. “not fat” and “sane people’s chronology,” respectively.  Even if the authors had wanted to call the word “normal” into question — to interrogate its multiple and shifting valences, if you will — they could’ve put it in quotes, like I just did.  So,

Fat bodies, like “normal” bodies, are made meaningful in relation to “normal” notions of time.

Alas, this is too clear.  By quote-bracketing “normal,” they make it too obvious that they’re trying to steal a base.  “Normal,” in quotation marks, precludes a sane(-ish) reading of that sentence (that fat people, despite being fat, perceive the passing of time more or less the same way thin people do).  And so they have to use “normative,” even though it looks like a syntax error and thus makes the reader even less inclined to take them seriously.

The authors’ argument, such as it is, could be cleanly and clearly restated, in normal English that can be understood by even the dubiously fluent:

Fat people don’t succeed unless they’re thin.

Which may or may not be true, but one thing’s for sure: “Queerness” has nothing to do with it, and “the passing of time” even less.  The sole point of all that jargon is to obfuscate — if we can’t really tell just what the hell the authors are talking about, we’re more inclined to just go with it when they start talking about “a queer exploration” of it.  It’s anti-communication.


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3 thoughts on “Friday Quick Take: Welcome to the Desert of the Real

  1. Al from da Nort

    As a connoisseur of military jargon, I might add that the point of a lot of it is more to communicate *efficiently* in addition to your valid point that jargon is often necessary for effective communication. The military uses TLAs and FLAs (three letter acronyms and four letter acronyms) to minimize link-time. As you can imagine, this is highly important in extreme situations.

    Besides that, military jargon expands the pool of those able to communicate because it enables those with more limited vocabularies and verbal facility, shall we say, to participate in necessary operations.

    Finally, there is often a bit of dry humor involved as well as group membership signaling.

  2. Nate winchester

    If you want to appear very profound and convince people to take you seriously, but have nothing of value to say, there is a tried and tested method. . . . Use highly technical language drawn from many different academic disciplines, so that no one person will ever have adequate training to fully evaluate your work.


    I love how the left flip flops on jargon.

    1. Severian

      Flip flop? The Left has been the very model of consistency, my friend — it’s only bad when someone they don’t like does it!

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