Inside view: About the curious case of using incomprehensible jargon

‘Reaaaaally?!’ I exclaimed in alarm when I was told the other day that a paper based on my articles in this column was going to be presented at The Humour Conference. What place would my articles, addressed to the common reader, have in a scholastic scenario? I was disconcerted at the prospect of pedagogical lenses subjecting my column to befuddling academic scrutiny.

What, I worried, would the obfuscating title be? Obfuscating, in case you are confused about its meaning, means ‘confusing’. I racked my brains for possible contenders. Would it be ‘Risibility and Social Construction in Interiority of Vision’? How about this one: ‘Interrogating the Discourse of the Normal: Locating the Ludicrous in Inside View’? Or maybe ‘Problematising Quotidian Risibility: A Comedic Riposte to the Existentialist Paradigm’? Risibility, in a general sense, means laughter. As for the other words, don’t break your heads over them; life will be as sweet without knowledge of their meanings.

Those who have any idea of the so called scholarly world would know that in this domain, a spade can never dream of being called a spade; rather it would be, let’s say, a manually operable instrument for terrestrial excavation, re-arrangement and displacement.

Scholars can never say ‘now’, instead it is always ‘at this point in time’; the word ‘change’ is passé, it has become ‘a paradigm shift’. They are never affected, only impacted. Their world has no limits, only parameters, and they don’t read books but they peruse texts. Their neologisms are replete with prefixes, suffixes and ‘isms’.

To the outsider, the formal academic world with its seminars, conferences, workshops and symposiums is an intimidating place mainly because linguistic distortion reigns supreme there. A college teacher who is taking baby steps into this world might hold a similar opinion. But the same teacher needs only the experience of a few seminars and paper presentations to become a past master at the use of post modernist jargon. At the drop of a literary hat, he/she now glibly contextualises marginalisation, broods on ‘the other’, is concerned about ‘spaces’ and attains epistemic and teleological understanding.

When Lewis Carroll in Through the Looking Glass made Humpty Dumpty say, ‘When I use a word ... it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less’, he hadn’t reckoned with academics for whom a word rarely means one thing. Sometimes it means many things, often it means nothing at all.

Research, a wag once said, is knowing more and more about less and less. What he forgot to add is that this specialised knowledge, often copied (and sometimes pasted) from various sources, is couched in such impressive sounding but obscure jargon that the meaning remains well hidden. But this, I guess, turns out to be a blessing in disguise for other researchers who can start afresh on the same topic with new titles and no one would be the wiser.

Seminars have come a long way from being a novelty to becoming the rage. UGC and the NAAC (National Assessment and Accreditation Council) emphasise research activities. The current API (Academic Performance Indicator) score system awards points for research; precious points that are necessary for the promotion of teachers from Assistant Professors to Associate Professors.

Small wonder then, that there is a glut of seminars these days. Since there are more points for attending national and international seminars, inviting an academic from just across the state’s border or roping in a desi scholar with a foreign passport becomes even more rewarding.

College teachers, MPhil students and research scholars spend most of their time attending seminars and refresher courses, making power point presentations, presenting papers and taking part in learned discussions at conferences regularly organised by colleges and Departments; somewhere along the line, teaching and students got sidelined. They gravitate eagerly towards these venues armed with published and to-be-published papers, finding comfort in the fact that incomprehensible jargon will make it possible for them to present several papers on the same theme.

The title plays a key role in this. Throw in a heteronormative here and a correlative there, substitute a hegemony with a discourse and you are on course to earn a few bonus points. If rumours are to be believed, computer generated papers with fancy titles have actually been submitted, accepted and admired, though they may not have been understood.

Imagine my relief when, after I had agonised enough over the title, I heard it was not any jargonised, intimidating phrase, but a plain, forthright ‘Dollops of Hilarity: The Language of Humour.’ May plain speak thrive!


(A fortnightly column by the city-based writer, academician and author of the Butterfingers series)

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