David Fleming
It's All Academic   www.davidflemingsite.com   
Spin Cycles

May 29, 2019

You keep using that word, I don't think it means what you think it means -

More moments of stupidity from the ivy-covered enclaves. Satirists claim it is hard to be noticed today in the political and social realm. Such challenges are in higher education too.

Today's evidence: a faculty member has resigned his position at Louisiana College due to the lack of administrative/institutional response to the inane comments of a dean.  An astute reader knows that this reductive statement leaves open for me the potential for three lines of attack: at the dean, at the faculty member, or at the administration/institution.

Read the story yourself from this morning's Inside Higher Ed, and you will quickly see that the faculty member comes out pretty well. The dean?  Certainly not.  However, the institution, in the form of its spokesperson, emerges even worse.

If you don't want to read the article, here it is a nutshell:

The Dean tells young women in a public forum to "trim their lawns" and to respect their bodies by not turning them into "crackhouses" via multiple sex partners.  So much fun can be had just by those two comments.  Instantly upon reading the story, I was concocting an entirely new version of The Commodores' classic "Brick House." Meanwhile, investment in a good weedwhacker seems appropriate advice for the young ladies.

However, as is almost always the case, the real "are you kidding me?" moment comes in the institutional response.  If it's true that the cover-up is worse than the crime, then in the case of academia, it is the covering ourselves that is worse than the crime.

As you can tell from meme-hero Inigo Montoya above, it is the appalling use of "nomenclature" that has me most livid.  That is because the college's mouthpiece says that the dean's talk was "evidence of differences in cultural perceptions and nomenclatures."  

How about a little history lesson, Mr. Spinmeister?

Originally, "Nomenclature" is a 16th century Middle French word evolving from the Latin "nomenclatura," meaning "calling of names."1  It is perhaps in this original form that our institutional representative is most accurate with his terminology.  On some level the Dean has resorted to a calling of names usually found on a middle school playground, although given how kids are exposed to the world these days, maybe this kind of name-calling can be heard on a kindergarten playground.

Turns out, though, that in Rome the Nomenclator was "a steward whose job it was to announce visitors."2 

Ah, I see it now, a long train of visitors to the all-powerful dean, his Gown Cryer standing at the door: "Your majesty, I present to you Madame Crackhouse, as well as her friend Lady Longlawn." "Nomenclator" also referenced a prompter who helped a speaker remember the names of his visitors as well as their pet causes.  Nice.  "Uh, that is Lydia Longlawn, sir, and she has a pro-choice agenda!"  

No, I don't think so, Louisiana College.

If we go with the more modern usage of the term, as I am sure our distinguished wordsmith intended, we find the more specified usage:

"A system of names used in an art or a science."3  Just what art or science was the Dean invoking with his comments, sir?  The Art of the DealThe Subtle Art of Not Giving A F*ckThe Art of War?

Or, in a second newer definition, "the system or procedure of assigning names to groups of organisms as part of a taxonomic classification."

Now, we are getting somewhere.  The sciences employ a very systematic approach to assigning nomenclature within universally accepted rules. To use one straightforward scientific model, what is the taxa, species, and subspecies of which the Dean speaks, kind prolocutor?  

Taxa: Sluttus

Species:  Sluttus doublestandardus 

Subspecies: Sluttus doublestandardus condemned

All joking aside, the complete ignorance of how language works, especially with a concept like nomenclature, pisses me off the most here.  The nature of language is to assign a word to "distinguish the objects of [our] experience."4 Words become the way we make sense of our lives.  It is why some cultures may have 100 words for snow, while other cultures may have only half a dozen.  In the first group, their experiences can justify the subtle distinctions of 100 different ways snow can be understood.

So, when Chucklehead Press Secretary claims the dean is using a different nomenclature, he is in essence confirming that the speaker has a different view about women.  And it is that view of women that is so troubling.

At least the dean had the good sense of walking back his statement by alluding to a "warped sense of humor," a stance that is a little easier to accept than "this is just the way he talks," which in so many words is how I read the "different nomenclatures" line.  I can more easily accept a warped sense of humor than a warped world view.  I get enough of the latter, and not nearly enough of the former, outside of academia.

1 Online Etymology Dictionary. 2019.

2 Ibid.

3 Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Online. 2019.

4 "Nomenclature." Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Last edited 24 May 2019.