Tag Archives: ABCderian

Jargon starts with J

Wikipedia, that omnipresent source of all online knowledge, has a nice reflection on the usefulness of jargon. Jargon helps those who are members of a particular field communicate with one another. At its best, it aids communication. At its worst, of course, it is exclusionary, allowing only people within smaller and smaller circles to understand what is being said or written. The smallest circle is the circle of one, where the author/speaker only communicates with him- or herself.

When I began this alphabet, I thought I’d be discussing Academic Jargon At Its Worst, the sort of exclusionary use of language that can make outsiders resentful. (That kind of jargon is discussed and defended over here.)

I have been accused of using that sort of language myself. Once I suggested that our church youth group study be on the Pentateuch. My co-youth leader said, “But I don’t think you should call it that.” My response was why not call it that? Pentateuch isn’t a difficult word. It is used by scholars, sure, but it is also understandable to many outside the scholarly world. Why not use Pentateuch, and define it, thus expanding the vocabulary of our youth?

I try not to use language in a way that obfuscates meaning (look it up), rather to be clear in what I say, realizing that I do need to define words I use at times. I think that sometimes Academic Jargon becomes a problem when people start talking about a concept, using vocabulary that can be misunderstood. Definitions are important. Of course, sometimes Academic Jargon is used to confuse people on purpose. That sort of confuspeak should be avoided. Clarity is a part of the point of academics writing. We generate knowledge, and should pass that knowledge on in appropriately understandable language.

Jargon can be a helpful shorthand for insiders in a field. It can also impede communication. How do you use words? Do you provide definitions, or at least allow people to ask for definitions as needed?

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I is for Interpretation

I is for Interpretation.

This could have been an H-word: Hermeneutics. H, however, was reserved for Historiography, my current nemesis. Interpretation, or Hermeneutics if you prefer, can also be difficult, though we do it all the time without really thinking about it.

Interpretation can be difficult particularly when texts that come from a context very different from that of the reader. I am a Protestant woman, living in the twenty-first century in Canada. That is a brief description of my context. When I read a text by (for example) a Catholic woman living in the fourteenth century in England (Margery Kempe), I have difficulty understanding that text well. In order to understand Kempe well, I look for information about her historical and geographical context. I look for information about how she might have used the English language differently than we do at present. Then I can begin to see how she might make sense in that context.

Lots of times in theology, when we talk about Interpretation (or Hermeneutics) we are talking about reading and understanding the Bible well. Reading the Bible well is much more tricky than reading Kempe. The Bible is made up of ancient documents, with the most recent being almost 2000 years old, and the rest much older than that. Further, these documents were originally written in Greek and Hebrew, and are often accessed in translation. Languages are used differently in different places and times. I’ve written about the process of figuring out the figurative use of language in the Psalms in this blog, where bones could stand for the whole body, or possibly be figurative language for the essential core of one’s being. Our current figurative use of bones in English might be completely different than the figurative use made of bones 3500 years ago (or more) in Hebrew. Sometimes we forget that when reading works in translation.

Interpretation – we do it all the time (you are reading this and assigning meaning and weight to it almost unconsciously as you do so), we too easily forget that we need to do it (what do bones represent really?), and often we need more information to do it well. What does this mean? How can I better understand it? These are the questions that begin Interpretation.

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G, Great.

Great starts with G. Please don’t confuse GREAT with GRATE, we aren’t going to cook today. (That was grating but it got the urge to make that pun out of the way. Finished groaning? Good, let’s go on.)

In this academic alphabet, Great will also stand in for other often-used evaluative words, including, but not limited to, the following: significant, important, pivotal, seminal. Most people who think, teach, and write about their thinking have some fond idea of being evaluated by their peers and successors as a great, or significant, or important person in their chosen field. They’d like to be outstanding in their field, though they are not farmers. (Sorry, pun filter slipped for a moment there. Got it back. Let’s go on.) But what does it mean to be Great?

There has been some thought lately about what might or might not make a nation great. I’ve written previously in this blog about the Great Men theory of history. But no one seems to be able to clearly say what it is that makes a person great. Is it what they do? What they think? Who they influence? And why do we strive after greatness? Or do we strive after fame, and think that means we’re great? Is greatness equivalent to fame? Or is something else going on?

So many questions, and the answer probably is “it depends.” In the dictionary something or someone who is called great has qualities significantly above normal or the average person. So a great book is significantly above the average or normal book. A great thinker is significantly above the average or normal thinker. In order to figure out whether anything is great, we have to know what the average or normal level is for that thing. I’m not sure we do that well at all. What criteria do we use in our evaluation? Do we call something great just because we LIKE it? And, since no book or person or idea is perfect, what imperfections might topple the item from our pedestals of greatness?

I think it might be more helpful in historical writing (which is what I’m working on at the moment) if things were just allowed to be interesting, and we didn’t always have to argue that something was Super Significant or Great or Seminal. Are average or normal events not worth speaking of?

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F=Force

Last summer I read a book called Woman as Force in History. I have an old, worn, paperback edition printed in the 70s (the cover design gives it away), but the book was originally published in 1946. In it, the author, Mary R. Beard, argues that women have always been part of history (the events that actually happen), they are just neglected or forgotten when the stories of what happened were written down. I will probably come back to Mary R. Beard’s views on history later in this alphabet. Today let’s talk about her use of the word FORCE.

As you may or may not recall, my first degree is in engineering. Aerospace engineering even. Rocket Science. This means I did a fair bit of physics, and even taught physics to high school students for a while. I keep finding physics words popping up as I read theology and history. I find I am not particularly fond of the way physics metaphors are slung about in these other disciplines. Beard’s title is my way into this particular rant.

I will concede that Mary R. Beard may not have thought of her phrasing “woman as force” as provocative or even having anything to do with some guy Newton and classical mechanics. She wrote this book in the shadow of the second world war, when forces deployed meant armies and navies and air forces. Air FORCE – that word again. Possibly she meant Woman as Force! to suggest an army of women acting through history. She does not, however, clarify her particular use of the term. I kept thinking of physics and F=ma and W=Fd and vectors. (To translate briefly: Force equals mass multiplied by acceleration and Work done equals force applied multiplied by displacement. One notes that if one combines the two equations, Work=mad. Hmmm.) Beard’s use of the term FORCE was slightly distracting and reminded me of all the other times I’ve seen physics metaphors that don’t quite work when one knows something about the physics.

Other physics concepts that have been more distracting than helpful out of context:

Quantum anything. Most recently, I’ve noticed a book called Paradoxology: Spirituality in a Quantum Universe. This appears (I’ve not read the whole thing) to take up the idea of quanta, discrete bundles of energy, and talk about this idea as if it explained God. The author is a woman of some talent and energy, but I’m not sure why she thinks it necessary to dabble in quantum metaphor, something physicists themselves claim is difficult to understand well. (I had a flashback moment when the author turned out to have written the songs and been part of the nuns singing on “Joy is Like the Rain” one of the few vinyl records available to play at camp when I was growing up.)

Uncertainty, as in the Uncertainty Principle (is the cat there?) or Relativity. These ideas are so often poorly used in general conversation and thought that I hesitate to talk about them here. Please do note that in physics, uncertainty applies at the atomic scale, that is, when things are very very small. Relativity applies when things are moving very very fast, at speeds approaching the speed of light. Despite what the movies say, we don’t know how to travel that quickly.

Centripetal and centrifugal forces. I encountered these two in a book I otherwise liked very much. I tried to find other words to substitute for them to get past the fact that I kept using physics to shoot down the author’s literary arguments because of his poor choice of metaphor. I think his arguments had merit despite the metaphors.

Possibly no one else finds the poor use of physics metaphors distracting. Let me know what you think. I think people should stop using these metaphors unless they know the physics.

May the Force Be With You.

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C=Cite

That’s right, cite is today’s word, as in cite your sources properly. Always provide citations, not sightations. The trick with cite is it has homophones. They tend to throw people off their game. Let’s review these tricky sound-alike words.

CITE – the word for today, refers to listing or naming the source of a quotation.

SIGHT – has to do with seeing, and if it is a noun, it could be something that you see, often that is extraordinary. Tourists go see the sights of the place they are visiting.

SITE – has to do with a location in space, or cyberspace. An archeological site is the place people are digging. A website is a location in cyberspace.

To really mess it up, it is possible to cite the site you caught sight of the other day. Or you could sight-see at the archeological site you saw discussed in the article you cited.

One more time:

CITE – make references to books or other sources of information

SIGHT – the ability to see the things around you or (possibly) the things you are looking at around you.

SITE – locations in geographical or cyberspace.

Don’t mix them up.

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B is for Battling Books

B is for Battle. Why do books battle? Wherefore warfare in our metaphor? Of course, it isn’t only books that battle. People battle disease, notably cancer. What makes us so prone to warring metaphors?

Battling books came to life in Jonathan Swift’s Battle of the Books, a clash between Ancients and Moderns with no clear resolution. Since Swift’s account of this battle, fought in St. James’s Library, was published in 1704, we might now consider Swift’s “Moderns” rather out of date. Yet the battle over the Literary Canon rages on. Which books are big guns? Who should we read? How is ethnicity (or gender) involved (or implicated) in epistemology? How do we know what to read? Who do we trust to tell us what to read?

A couple of years ago, a friend asked me for a reading list. I’m usually happy to recommend reading, but I am reluctant to list things, as though that were some kind of Canon of Books To Be Read. Yet I get asked the question. This means that (some) people trust me to tell them about things that might be interesting to read. I am a fan of reading broadly, which means I like my reading to come from books both Ancient and Modern. New and old reading challenges me to think differently, to broaden my horizons. I don’t like fixed canons, though I do see the point of them. Common ground in reading gives people places to start in conversation. Instead of a battle, I’d rather the books (and their readers) sat down and had a real discussion, one that involved listening carefully and thoughtful replies, instead of entrenched positions and cutting remarks.

On the disease front, perhaps it would be healthier for everyone if we used life-giving rather than battle-drenched metaphor. Unfortunately the fighting words around disease are so entrenched (a battle-word if there ever was one), that I’m not sure what life-giving lively metaphor would even sound like. I’m open to ideas.

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A is the first letter of the Alphabet

A is for Authentic. Of course A could also be for Authority, Argument, or Agnostic, words which could all lead to profitable Academic discussions. I’m going to stick with Authentic as my A-word. Authentic things are true and real. Truth plus reality gives these authentic things weight. On the other hand, if something is inauthentic it has a hollow ring of fakery about it.

Why be concerned with something authentic, something weighty? Recently I saw a question posed in a header in social media that separated reality and truth from one another – do we care if something is true, so long as it is real? I’m not sure reality and truth should so casually be separated. Can something be real without being true? And if it were one without the other, would it be an authentic thing, something that carried solid weight?

As an example, lets compare two people called Harry – Potter and Prince Harry of Wales. Both are appealing people, well known and loved by millions. However, Prince Harry is authentic, and Potter is not. Potter is a character in a book and movie series. Because of the ongoing appeal of the series in print, on film, and online, Potter may seem very real. There may be true things to say about Potter and his world. Potter may even seem closer to the world in which you live than Prince Harry does. But Prince Harry shows up in our worlds from time to time, Harry in the flesh. He does things in the real world that Potter cannot do. He is an authentic human being, living and acting in the world, not a character in a fictional universe.

Of course there are many ways to spin authentic. I could argue that I have a more authentic relationship with Potter than with the prince, having read the Potter books more times than I care to admit, and never having met the prince. I could say I have a couple of authentic Canadian first edition Potter books. This sort of spin may have led to the question separating the real and the true that I saw on social media. I’m not sure we should do that in such an off-hand manner, without thinking about what it is we’re saying.

I find that I rather like authentic things, that have both reality and truth, that carry weight. Separating the real and the true diminishes something. So my answer to that internet question, “Does it matter if something is true as long as it is real?” is YES. Yes it matters to me. And I think it should matter to you too.

 

(This is an Authentic Alphabet Soup Monday Morning Blog Post. The authenticity is guaranteed by the capital letters.)

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Alphabet Soup

About a month ago, I came across an article on the Guardian, “From Alright to Zap: An A-Z of horrible words.” Excellent, I thought. I rather enjoy alphabetical lists, and horrible words are always good for either agreement or outrage. Would the perceptive author include the abomination “impactful” or the over-used “utilize”? I turned to the article with interest. After reading it, I thought the article could be more appropriately described as a reflection on how language, English in particular, changes over time. Words shift in use. Neo-logisms appear. Some of these catch on; others fall by the way. It is a helpful reminder to define terms, particularly when I’m using them in a specific and nuanced way. In fact, this article has inspired me to write an alphabet of my own, a list of words I find troublesome as I do scholarly work. My A entry will appear on Monday, and B-Z will follow on from there. Please feel free to indicate any academic jargon you think should be included in the comments.

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XYZ, Now I know my ABCs

OK, I’ve been trying to work out how to do X, which might explain why I’ve taken so long to post. The other reason for the posting delay is the decision I made to update my operating system. That always takes way more time than you think it will, then you have to get new muscle memory on where things are and which way to swipe and all that stuff. It is a process and a half.

Enough about operating systems and on to the matter at hand: concluding the alphabet.

X – I have no authors at all in my database under X. None. Zero. Zilch. There aren’t even a whole lot of words beginning with X. The Constant Reader may here remind me of xylophones, but I’ve little to say about xylophones. Do YOU know any X-authors? Do let me know if you have encountered any. I’m curious.

Y, I’ve got no problem with Y, so on we go to Y, the problem-free letter, the letter with an embarrassment of riches, where I have to choose between two worthy women authors. Wait. I don’t have to chose, I’ll have one of the Y-authors stand in for the lack of an X author. Yes. Sometimes I’m brilliant. (Also humble. And, I hope you realize, not very serious.)

Yfloralis for Yonge, Charlotte M. Yonge, author of The Heir of Redcliffe. I read The Heir of Redcliffe because someone recommended it to me. It was the first of the nineteenth-century women writers on specifically religious subjects that I read. This was, however, before I began my research on 19th-century women who interpreted the Bible. Yonge is one of those women, but I read this book before all that really started. Also, after I read Yonge, I re-read Little Women, and behold! Jo reads The Heir of Redcliffe in Little Women! Literary referencing in the nineteenth century! Excitement! Connections! Hurrah! I like connections. You should read The Heir of Redcliffe for insight into the century. I should revisit it as I’m sure I will understand it differently now.

Y is also for Yust, Karen Marie Yust, author of Taught By God, a book that does a great job helping people think through how the history of Christian education can inform current practice. I sort of fan-girled Dr. Yust at a Large Academic Conference last November. I think she was startled to have me rush up and enthuse about TBG. Oh well. I do like it. You should read it.

And so to Z. I’ve one author, J. Peter Zane, in my database in the Z-section. J. Peter doesn’t make the cut for this blog post because he’s a guy. There are women whose surnames begin with Z, but I’ve not read them. Have you? Any recommendations?

 

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W is for Women!

Of course, you knew that — this whole alphabet is about women writers. Which Woman? you may well ask. Well, let me tell you.

Wwomenis for Willis, Connie Willis.

Who? Yes, that’s the point! A woman who you haven’t heard much about. Ok, some of you out there know perfectly well who Connie Willis is, but I bet its only a few. The Constant Reader, the Norwegian, and — I’m not sure if there’s anyone else. Oh maybe the Vicar’s Wife out there in Alberta.

Connie Willis writes great time travel books and other speculative fiction. I particularly recommend To Say Nothing of the Dog, and Doomsday Book. Because the books are time travel, they are not your normal science fiction — yet the time travellers start in the future, but not any future I’ve imagined. I’m not sure what disaster occurred to make Willis’s Oxford the way it is, but that is part of the fun — looking for clues and thinking about what happened between now and that imagined future.

This is also a reminder of International Women’s Day! Why do you think I waited to write my W entry? Happy IWD and happy time change.

 

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