Want the secret to getting an A? Use simple language sprinkled with big-words. That’s what the dean I knew did on her ascent to deanship. Her papers sounded grade-two jammed with jargon. That way, she didn’t pickle herself as either too stuffy or too stupid.
To gather jargon for your essays, use critical theory—any theory. Put jargon words like “milieu” in essays. But beware the angry victim role. Why hate white privilege—whatever that means? Why hate? Look instead to compromise, cooperate—you know, win-win. But good luck in finding a methodology for that model. In grad studies, I performed at an academic conference. After I performed, I asked the audience to name methods that would allow me to cooperate rather than resist. The crowd of blank faces squirmed hush-hush.
Earlier, when I served as a TA, I did the right thing. I told my students middle-class white men were vile. Students complained, but I shut down the debate. Why? Feminist studies had me ready to shave my scalp and dress like a fisherman. Resist, not cooperate, right?
Ironically, the book I cite below uses “she” throughout. So, sole use of “he” caused uproar, but sole use of “she” is okay. Why do women hate power they aim to claim?
And let’s not forget the power of abstract language. Politicians use abstract slogans like “love,” “courage,” and “diversity”. Abstractions “are … useful tools for writers who want to disguise or hide the truth” (p. 68), says Barbara Baig in her book Spellbinding Sentences: A Writer’s Guide to Achieving Excellence & Captivating Readers. Abstractions easily deceive.
So, sincere politicians should spell-out abstract slogans. How? Through “specific examples, details, or statistics” (Baig, p. 69). When politicians fail to throw light, they dupe—with rah-rah rhetoric.
Barbara Baig dives into writers’ worlds of abstract and concrete language. She shows how to craft precision, connotations, and concrete language in her book Spellbinding Sentences: A Writer’s Guide to Achieving Excellence & Captivating Readers:
- Choose your words precisely—and know what they mean.
- Find the precise word: rewrite sentences, check dictionaries and thesauruses, and play with synonyms.
- Some synonyms are so similar you can swap them. Others are slightly dissimilar. So, look up synonyms’ definitions.
- Take a word and jot down its connotations (i.e., its associated words). Pick the most fitting connotation to slip in your sentence.
- Fill readers in on connotations that stem from your own life. If Aunty May is codeword for chip-dip pig, then say so.
- Use specific words in writing: “Specifics give readers sensory details, statistics, examples, particulars. They provide the substance of all good writing” (p. 60).
- Specific words are often concrete; general words, abstract.
- We sense concrete words through sight, hearing, taste, touch, or smell. Abstract words we don’t directly sense, but rather, intellectualize. Examples of abstract words are “love,” “courage,” and “diversity.”
- Don’t overuse abstract words. Replace them with concrete words for livelier writing.
- Academics who use strictly abstract words sound incomprehensible to some.
- With abstract words, “you need, first of all, to be sure of your own meaning. What are you trying to say through the abstractions justice or love? Then you need to make your meaning clear to your readers” (p. 68).
- “Show your readers what you mean by those abstractions by giving specific examples, details, or statistics” (pp. 68-69).
And buy a rhyming dictionary. Rhymes for idealists? Resist. The. Sensationalist. Or, if academics ever get it straight, cooperate.