Wednesday, October 10, 2007

A while back, I remember reading a facetious list of jargon definitions. It's one of those things that seemed, to me at least, to make up most of the content of the Internet in the 1990s; jokes. What I'm thinking of was basically an ironic or parodic version of this. What I remember was about academic jargon you'd hear from a college professor. This isn't an exact entry, but it's the general idea:

What the professor saysWhat the professor means
"It's controversial""I disagree with what 90 percent of the experts in this field have said."

Well, a while ago I was working on a story about an artist whose work would be on display in the area. The story came out pretty well, actually, but when I reread it after it was published I noticed that a phrase I had used to describe something she said about patterns of light didn't actually mean much. I thought what I wrote was funny, and reminded me of one of those "what he says"/"what he means" lists. So if there's any such list out there for newspaper articles, I hope it has an entry for this phrase, or maybe I should just start a list of my own.

What the writer saysWhat the writer means
"subtle interaction""I didn't understand it, but it seemed important"

While I'm at it, I couldn't figure out how to find an example of the kind of list I was talking about, and finally gave up. (I started writing this way back in August and forgot about it and decided to post it now.) Googling stuff like academic translation humor gave me lots of stuff about the difficulty of translating humor between languages. Similar searches gave me stuff that might have been helpful, but I didn't want to check at work.

So I tried to remember an exact phrase from one particular entry, arriving at the example I used for "It's controversial" I used above. I tried Googling that last exact phrase, but found nothing, literally zero matches found. I kept on paring it down, removing words one at a time or putting some of it outside the quotes.

When I finally got matches, it was for things like "most of the experts" disagree or "half of the experts" disagree, but almost all the hits were for pages about America's foreign policy, in Iraq or Kazakstan or an NPR poll on the war on terror. And for good measure, there was a global warming page or two in there. I don't know if I should be amused or cynical or depressed that there's so much disagreement about those things, but I thought it was interesting. (And, on reflection, it's not that surprising. Of course there is more disagreement, especially more publically disseminated disagreement, about politically controversial topics than about scientific research or something. And there were some non-political topics among the top 10 hits for these searches as well.)

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