Thursday, October 8, 2009

How to Talk Like An Academic: A Primer

Most Mixonian readers are far too intelligent to spend their lives slaving away in the hallowed halls of the ivory tower. However, now and then you might want to have a few rhetorical tricks up your sleeve to converse in the language of aca-dementia. it's good for sounding intelligent, yet unclear. If you're good at it, no one will question what the heck you're talking about.

By far, the most important thing you need to know is never to ever say anything without a qualifyer.

That means you would never say, "Gosh, this cake is delicious!"

You would say, "Speaking only from my perspective as a bodacious sales manager, this cake appears to be delicious." Then, if the next day your bathroom scales seems to indicate that indeed you did eat the cake, it's time for a fresh analysis.

You see, in PhD school, you're trained to doubt EVERYTHING. In the case of the cake, a true blue academic would doubt whether it's really cake, whether it's really delicious, and whether you're really eating it.

The two words you want to insert as frequently as possible are: perspective and paradigm.

You always want to say that you're speaking from your perspective as something, and then you define that something.

If you want to discuss a situation, try to throw in the word "paradigm." For example, "Obviously, he's still operating in the nineteenth-century capitalist industrialist paradigm."

If something is weird, call it an outlier. "Don't mind Fred, he's always been an outlier." If your boss criticizes something about you, you can deflect that criticism by casually dismissing itas an "outlier." This will confuse your boss and he will be too insecure to ask what you mean.

Finally, you can always insert the phrase "my premises may be flawed but." To put Alice in her place, you could say, "My premises may be flawed, but speaking from my perspective as an awesome widget manager, Alice is worthless as my administrative assistant."

Be patient with yourself. It takes time, 21 to 30 days, to develop a new habit. I can promise you that learning academic speak will serve to confound your colleagues, customers, and bosses and they'll learn to leave you alone.