Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Linguistic Excesses...

Oh. My. God. I just read THE MOST UNBELIEVABLE biographical note of an about-to-be-retired professor at my university, and its use of exceedingly cringeworthy superlatives to describe the trajectory of his academic career is so mortifying that they JUST HAVE TO BE SHARED.

(Names are obviously pseudonymised to protect the innocent - chief of whom is the poor professor himself! Let's call him Adam, as in the expression, "I don't know him from Adam", because the biographical note is making him out to be this unrelentingly self-regarding man on a massive ego trip when the poor guy is probably the most down-to-earth and humble person that one could find in the ego-driven environment that is my university - he has to be if he managed to get on well with the students. The toe-curlingly embarrassing and frankly offensively inaccurate use of adjectives are highlighted in bold type to give them extra humiliating oompf... as are those that are clearly typographical mistakes that would have been corrected by even a junior freshman if he has given the text just a second cursory glance before its university-wide circulation. The notes in Red are my own mortifying cris de coeur when I read the text, wailing against the clueless writer capable of such shite yet somehow surviving in academia... Oh by the way, try reading the below out loud in a quasi-Brit accent if you can - after all, a pompous text requires a suitably pompous accent.)

".... Adam has been the epitome of a university lecturer (Hmm, and what would that be? The word "epitome" sounds plain wrong in reference to a profession - anyone heard of "the epitome of a doctor" or "the epitome of a lawyer", without any qualifier as to what particular trait of the profession that the writer believed the individual to be the epitome of? It would have been less jarring to refer to Adam simply as "a model university lecturer"); as a pedagogue par excellence he has devoted untold hours teaching (Obviously it is too hard and pointless to calculate how many teaching hours there were in a career spanning several decades... so why mention the hours at all?? It would have been more appropriate to say "devoted years (or even decades) teaching", as "untold hours" is a phrase one would use in reference to the amount of effort generously expended for a particular project or initiative, NOT an entire career!) aspiring scientists, doctors, pharmacists [the list goes on to enumerate all the various scientific disciplines] (Why the need to list every single one of the disciplines the man has taught? Ferchrissakes a guy with decades of teaching experience would have touched the lives of students across many different programmes and you are either doing injustice to his influence by listing too few or sounding ridiculous by trying to list them all - which is exactly what this sounds like!)... He has been universally popular amongst students and has had a profound interest in the academic well being (First of all, "wellbeing" is one word, or you could spell "well-being", but not "well being"! Second of all, what is meant by "academic wellbeing"?? Are you trying to say "academic standards" or "personal wellbeing"? You can't simply conflate the two, and in any case, all teachers are concerned with the academic standards of their students, so this is almost like damning with faint praise.) of all those in his tutelage... It came as no surprise to all of us when he was recently awarded the Provost's lifetime teaching award in recognition of his consistently superlative teaching ("Consistently superlative"??????????? Teaching that could be described as "superlative"??????????? Oh kill me now!!!!!!!!!!!!!).

.... Many of these research themes derive from his previous appointments at ABC Institute (1901-1902), New University York Medical Centre (Jaysus! If you can't even bother to give your script at least the once-over...)(1903-1904), XYZ Somewhere and ABC Institute (1905-1906) (Why repeat the ABC Institute again a second time? You could simply have written, in the first instance of mentioning the Institute, the periods (1901-1902; 1905-1906). After all, you are simply saying that his research agenda stemmed from his time at these various institutions, and NOT a chronological list of his previous appointments as if you are writing his résumé!) .

.... In the same spirit as his devotion to teaching he has been an enthusiastic and untiring supporter of student sports. Adam is a keen sportsman himself (Ah, the old chestnut of always emphasizing a male academic's virility since academic credentials are by themselves no guarantee of street cred) and is a long-standing member of both the XXX Houses Athletics Association and University Ancient Running Club with a Funny Name. Indeed (Why the need to put in the word "Indeed", as if his completing "no fewer than 30 marathons" is something exceptional when it was already established that he's a long-standing member of a running club? Why not simply the word "and" to link the two sentences together?), he has completed no fewer than 30 marathons. Aside from his passion for sports, Adam has been a zealous (Methinks actually the use of superlatives in this document is rather overzealous! What's wrong with "avid"? In any case, "discernment" would have been a more admirable quality in an art collector than plain zeal) collector of art; given the extensiveness of his collection (Hmmm, obviously his collection has to be extensive for him to loan hundreds of pieces for display in College, so why the redundant aggrandisement? It would have been classier to simply state, "Adam has been an avid art collector and for years has generously loaned hundreds of pieces from his extensive collection to the College") he has loaned hundreds of pieces to the College and these adorn many rooms throughout the Building and University. (Hah, the Building name that is mentioned is also part of the University, or have you failed to notice that it is?)

In recognition of his unstinting loyalty (Loyalty to whom? College? "Unstinting" loyalty is appropriate to describe the devotion to a friend, or to his team, or even to his students. But to an organisation? Er, not so much. You're making him sound like a lapdog. This could have been simple to remedy if you actually insert "to the College community" so that there is a humanizing object to his devotion), capacious generosity ("Capacious Generosity". Are you having me on?????????? Have you any idea what "Capacious" means?????????? In case you haven't noticed, "generosity" is a quality, and pairing it with an adjective used more in reference to physical quantity is never a good idea. This is one of the worst examples of indulging in verbosity by fiddling with a Thesaurus. Just because "capacious" is the synonym to "ample" doesn't mean that you could simply substitute it when it comes to indicating boundless generosity. And all for what? Just because "capacious" has more letters than "ample" doesn't make it more academic or more right! Oh. My. God. Kill me now. Again!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!) and his consistent service far in excess of normal standards (I can see you are clearly at the end of your tethers where superlatives go and you cannot for the life of you imagine what his service could be "far in excess of" so "normal standards" would have to do) a reception will be held to mark Adam's retirement... If you have any interesting pictures of Adam for our photo collection (Because we really need more incriminating photos than the toothily-grinning one that was used as a BACKDROP to this extremely mortifying biographical text because we are not done with humiliating the poor man yet), please send them as jpg or tiff files to The.Secretary.Who.Is.Clearly.Having.A.Laugh.Producing.This.Note.

[Followed by the names of the Great and the Good of the University who obviously had not even read through the note once - or even to open the damn document (as otherwise they would have seen the tastelessly colourfully-reproduced and enlarged Adam grinning back at them and would have demanded a more respectful photo treatment of their colleague) - before agreeing to add their names to the signatory list].

Sigh... With friends like these, who needs enemies? The professor's humble wish of having a dignified retirement ceremony is dashed - just dashed - by this carelessly written and obviously unvetted circular. But this is just SO UNLIKE any of the other respectful-but-dull retirement circulars that have been sent around in the past, that I am actually willing to bet that his presentation fund is going to swell by donations from many people like me who feel moved to give if only out of a sense of pity at his misfortune at the hands of a witless circular-drafter more than anything else.

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