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Academese is a term referring to unnecessary jargon associated with the field of academia, particularly common in academic writing in humanities, and the opposite of plain language.[1]: 1 [2][3]: 29 [4][5][6]: 73–75  The term is often but not always pejorative, and occasionally can be used to refer to complex but necessary terminology.[6]: 69–72 [7] Critics of academese argue that it usually creates unnecessary difficulty in communication for both readers and scholars, with the most harsh critics arguing this is intentional with users aiming to impress the readers and hide the fact that they are not saying anything of substance.[3]: 6 [1]: 1 [6]: 73–74 

In the context of medical sciences, a similar term "medicalese" exists; likewise, legal science jargon is called "legalese".[1]: 1 [7][8][9] In the context of the English language, the term "Engfish" has also been used.[3]: 6  Another related and highly pejorative term is "academic bullshit".[3]: 44 

History, examples of usage and criticism

The usage of the word in English has been traced to at least 1917, and is attributed to Will Durant, who in his Philosophy and the Social Problem defined it as an opposite of "plain language".[3]: 29  It has been suggested that prevalence of academese in humanities has seen significant increase in the last century, whereas the sciences have not seen a similar rise.[1]: 4  Academic writing, particularly in the fields of art and literary criticism, was the subject of criticism by George Orwell in his 1946 essay Politics and the English Language; similar criticisms were expressed by Steven Pinker in his 2014 essay , entitled Why Academics Stink at Writing.[1]: 1–2 [4] In 1985, Jacob L. Mey criticized academese harshly, writing that "Academese is a misuse of language, a road-block on the way to knowledge, erected by the mafia of the pseudo-scientists and their linguistic connection: it obstructs, rather than promotes communication. It discriminates against Academe's outsiders by ridiculing their ways of expressing themselves".[6]: 75 

Academese has been partially attributed to the rise of the postmodernist tradition. Some of the related issues have been popularized by the Sokal affair in 1996. Alan Sokal produced a text that "not only exemplifies academese in what might be one of its worst—that is, most inaccessible— forms, but also unabashedly mocks anyone who uses it", published in a purported academic journal specializing in postmodernist texts, and then published a critique of this process in another journal.[3]: 32–34 

Academese has been criticized through mock awards by several organizations. Since 1974 the National Council of Teachers of English has been awarding the "Doublespeak Award", an "ironic tribute to public speakers who have perpetuated language that is grossly deceptive, evasive, euphemistic, confusing, or self-centered".[3]: 40  From 1995–1998 the journal Philosophy and Literature sponsored a ‘Bad Writing Contest’, which lampooned "the most stylistically lamentable passages found in scholarly books and articles published in the last few years", with philosopher Judith Butler, the winner of that contest in 1998, often cited as one of the most notorious users of academese.[1]: 2 [3]: 40 [10][11][12]

Howard S. Becker, author of several guides on academic writing addressed to young scholars, has been described as having "an aversion to academese".[13]

In 2012 Mark Blyth noted that in order to popularize scientific research, scholars need to "let go of the academese".[2]

Academese has been criticized in syndicated comic strips, including a Calvin and Hobbes comic originally published in 1993[3]: 41 [14] as well as a strip in Piled Higher and Deeper.[3]: 42 [15]

Academese has been described as a common stereotype of academic writing in general.[1]: 1 

Purpose and characteristics

Academese has been criticized for being overly complex and for being intentionally complex to impress readers.[1]: 1  Academese can also constitute a form of power relations between those who use it and those who do not, serving to separate individuals into different groups and discriminate against those who are not fluent in it.[6]: 73–74  Conversely, academese can help academics recognize one another quickly and help them socialize with one another.[6]: 76  In extreme cases, it has been suggested that those who use academese on purpose may do so as part of an inferiority complex.[6]: 62, 67 

While the term is often seen as pejorative, it can be sometimes used in neutral fashion as a synonym to academic writing, or jargon in that field, some of which is considered necessary to express certain advanced concepts.[6]: 69–72 [7]

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 1.7 Biber, Douglas; Gray, Bethany (2016-05-26). Grammatical Complexity in Academic English: Linguistic Change in Writing (in English). Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-1-107-00926-4.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Blyth, Mark (2012-03-09). "Five minutes with Mark Blyth: "Turn it into things people can understand, let go of the academese, and people will engage"". Impact of Social Sciences (in English). Retrieved 2021-09-01.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 3.6 3.7 3.8 3.9 Lockhart, Heather (2015-01-01). ""Academia, Here I Come!" : Plain Language and Academese in the Postsecondary Academy". Theses, Dissertations and Culminating Projects.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Pinker, Steven (26 September 2014). "Why Academics Stink at Writing". Retrieved 2021-09-01.
  5. Lynn, Heather (2020-03-01). The Anunnaki Connection: Sumerian Gods, Alien DNA, and the Fate of Humanity (From Eden to Armageddon) (in English). Red Wheel/Weiser. p. 218. ISBN 978-1-63265-761-9.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 6.5 6.6 6.7 Mey, Jacob (1985-01-01). Whose Language?: A Study in Linguistic Pragmatics (in English). John Benjamins Publishing. pp. 71–77. ISBN 978-90-272-5004-9.
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 Ekundayo, Steven; Omowumi, Olabode; Sokari, Stanley (2019). "Writing Right in Academese: The Language of Academic and Research Report Writing" (PDF). CLAREP Journal of English and Linguistics. 1: 31–60.
  8. Young, Meredith E.; Norman, Geoffrey R.; Humphreys, Karin R. (2008-12-08). "The Role of Medical Language in Changing Public Perceptions of Illness". PLOS ONE (in English). 3 (12): e3875. Bibcode:2008PLoSO...3.3875Y. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0003875. ISSN 1932-6203. PMC 2587237. PMID 19060953.
  9. Baron, Joanne (2016-12-01). Patron Gods and Patron Lords: The Semiotics of Classic Maya Community Cults (in English). University Press of Colorado. ISBN 978-1-60732-518-5.
  10. "The Bad Writing Contest". 2020-12-08. Archived from the original on 2020-12-08. Retrieved 2021-09-02.
  11. Staff, Guardian (1999-12-24). "The world's worst writing". the Guardian (in English). Retrieved 2021-09-02.
  12. Birkenstein, Cathy (2010). "We Got the Wrong Gal: Rethinking the "Bad" Academic Writing of Judith Butler". College English. 72 (3): 269–283. ISSN 0010-0994. JSTOR 25653028.
  13. Charney, Davida (1986). "Review of Writing for Social Scientists: How to Start and Finish Your Thesis, Book, or Article". Rhetoric Society Quarterly. 16 (4): 313–316. doi:10.1080/02773948609390757. ISSN 0277-3945. JSTOR 3885547.
  14. Watterson, Bill (2013-02-14). "Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson for February 14, 2013 |". GoComics (in English). Retrieved 2021-09-02.
  15. "PHD Comics: Deciphering Academese". Retrieved 2021-09-02.

External links