Meaningless Expressions

Whenever I encounter the following expressions, my mind boggles. I can actually feel my brain starting to warp as it strives to deduce their meaning. I’m not trying to be funny here (when I am, I usually attach a “humor” tag to  the post). I truly have no idea what these expressions are supposed to mean and why they are used. Now, let’s try to figure that out together, and maybe my readers can help me.

Income inequality

This is a very puzzling one, folks. Whenever I encounter this expression, it always occurs in a context that signals this “income inequality” as something negative. If it is a negative phenomenon, then there should be a positive alternative attached to it, right? And what would that be? Income equality, I presume. Which, in turn, must mean that the ideal state of affairs is the one where everybody has the same income, right? And this is something that I simply don’t get because even Marx and Lenin never went as far as that. Even they agreed that, for example, people of intellectual professions are entitled to a greater income because they bring the added value of their unpaid studies to their work.

Often, the articles that mention this mysterious income inequality seem to be based on the idea that a significant difference in income between varying groups of population is always bad and a smaller income gap is always good. This makes no sense either since nobody has proven yet that this is the case. I can see why a greater income gap can be good for a country’s economic growth. But a smaller one? Historically, whenever the income gap shortened significantly, that always spelled a much less vibrant economy. If anybody has any proof that I’m mistaken on this subject, I’d be very interested in seeing it.

Job security

This is another mysterious one. The only way for people to feel secure in their jobs is to go the Soviet way and remove the threat of anybody being fired altogether. Can anybody guess what happens the moment such a policy is introduced? Yes, people stop working. They come to their places of employment and fritter away the time before going home.

If I had a guarantee that my job was “secure” and that there was no chance of my contract being revoked, do you really think I’d bust my ass to participate in all of those endless activities, initiatives, committees, etc. that now fill my midpoint folder? “Job security” spells a crash into instant scarcity of absolutely everything, from food to services. And here I really don’t want any arguments from people who never lived in a society where everybody’s jobs were secure and, as a result, the stores were empty of any products (I’m not exaggerating here, I mean rows upon rows of empty shelves), the doctors beat up their five-year-old patients during procedures, nurses refused to interrupt their chats to approach patients in excruciating pain, etc.

Also, if somebody is planning to argue that tenure and job security have anything in common, then you need to start following the news. That has not been the case for a while.

Work-life balance

This one just bugs me beyond belief. Work is obviously a part of life, right? So how can anybody try to balance a part with the whole? What sense does this make? It annoys me like I can’t tell you when I get asked on institutional surveys whether I am “content with my work-life balance.” Why not abandon this silly bureaucrat-speak and just ask whether I have enough free time or whether I feel overworked? I’m guessing that this is the information the question is trying to elicit.

Two-body problem

This is an expression that academics love and I hate. From what I have been able to gather, it refers to the difficulty academic couples face in finding employment in the same geographic area. What I don’t get is why instead of using this extremely clumsy “we have finally solved the two-body problem”, one can’t just say, “N. and I have found jobs in the same town.”

And the way the expression sounds is so stupid, too. Why “two-body”? Why a “problem”? You know this nasty sound of dragging a finger-nail across a chalk-board? That’s what I hear whenever anybody uses this phrase.

Sustainability in the classroom

I understand what sustainable fishing means. It’s when you don’t take out more fish from the sea or whatever than will be able to restore its number through reproduction. Right? What does this have to do with teaching, though?

I’m guessing that there might be some sciences where sustainable teaching is a relevant concept. Possibly the ones that rely upon labs, resources, etc. Why, however, am I hearing this expression thrown around so much in reference to the Humanities?

And don’t think I haven’t tried to figure this one out. I did several online searches about this concept. Every single time, however, I alighted upon a a long and extremely vague disquisition filled with endless bureaucratic verbiage that has no meaning whatsoever.

Are there words and expressions that really bug you? Feel free to share, and we’ll hate them together.

34 thoughts on “Meaningless Expressions”

  1. Your first three expressions also annoy the heck out of me. Here are a few more of my own:

    “Talent development” – this is usually reserved for politically entrenched individuals at a corporation.

    “Think outside of the box” – this usually means that one should simply think inside of the box.

    “Collaborative leadership” – this usually refers to a new age style of leadership in which people deliberate for years, yet no one ever makes or takes responsibility for a decision.

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  2. “Two-body problem” bugs me a lot, but not half as much as “work-life balance”. I do not support working all the time, but the only people I know who use the phrase “work-life balance” use it to justify their laziness. “Oh, I am working on my work-life balance, that is why I can’t do anything for this paper, even though I am an author, and 80% of the work has been done my advisor”.

    The one I hate the most is “leadership”. That is our department chair’s favorite term, and every time I hear it, it makes me want to giggle.

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    1. A very timely comment. Right at this very moment I’m creating a bunch of paperwork aimed at demonstrating how I “took on a leadership role” on various committees. I have now discovered that interrupting people to say, “OK, folks, we are running out of time and need to move on” can be construed as leadership.

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  3. Mine aren’t as deep as yours I’m afraid but I really hate it when people repeatedly end their sentences with “and so on and so forth” and “and such” (seriously and such). Also “whatever the case may be”. And the phrases/words: “like a boss” “winning” and “epic.” I hear those in the classroom ad nauseum..

    @ Sean – I also think “think outside the box” has become the box!

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      1. No I don’t hate it! They are perfectly reasonable phrases! But I have two friends who use them as filler when they’re done with a sentence but don’t want to be, and so on and so forth whatever the case may be. And they do it every other sentence and so on and so forth and such. It’s not hateful, just kind of an eye-roller. And such.

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  4. “Historically, whenever the income gap shortened significantly, that always spelled a much less vibrant economy. If anybody has any proof that I’m mistaken on this subject, I’d be very interested in seeing it.”

    In Japan CEO’s make about six times as much as the average worker, in the US it’s something like 400 times. This hasn’t helped the US economy in comparison to Japan’s. This is just one example.

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    1. I would not adduce Japan as an example of anything because I have a very strong feeling that it’s a culture that is suffering through a very rapid and a very harsh decline. My suspicion is that it’s the consequence of the nuclear holocaust Japan experienced.

      I’m not ready to discuss this in more detail, though, because I’m not completely sure.

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    2. Okay, but there are countless other examples. The issue is with *extreme* inequality. So you are correct in that the phrase is not entirely accurate, but it is referring to a real phenomenon.

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  5. I can definitely understand where you’re coming from on this one. I have to admit, for the first two I have a slightly different view that I thought I’d throw out there.

    For me, income equality means that people get equal pay for the same job. In March of last year the White House released a study that indicated that women were making 25% less than men for the exact same job. So no, I don’t think that doctors and janitors (for an example) should make the same amount. But female doctors and male doctors with the same education and experience should make the same.

    In terms of job security. . . To me that means that if you do your job you shouldn’t be fired. So yes, hard work is definitely required. Let’s say that I’m a lawyer at a law firm. I work hard, get the firm new clients, and win more cases than any of my counterparts. But when it’s time for me to be made junior partner they decide to let me go instead because they don’t like my haircut (again, this is just an example.)

    On phrase that I hate is along the same lines as Pish Posh. I absolutely hate it when people say “Oh My Heck!” Seriously, I just think it sounds ridiculous.

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    1. “For me, income equality means that people get equal pay for the same job. In March of last year the White House released a study that indicated that women were making 25% less than men for the exact same job. So no, I don’t think that doctors and janitors (for an example) should make the same amount. But female doctors and male doctors with the same education and experience should make the same.”

      – If the expression is used in this way, I would never have a problem with it. I think that when we are talking about gender, it should be “wage inequality” than “income inequality”, though.

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  6. ‘Invisible hand of the market’.

    I hadn’t heard this in a long long time until Clarissa used it in the previous post.

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  7. If I had a guarantee that my job was “secure” and that there was no chance of my contract being revoked, do you really think I’d bust my ass to participate in all of those endless activities, initiatives, committees, etc. that now fill my midpoint folder? “Job security” spells a crash into instant scarcity of absolutely everything, from food to services.

    You must have a really low opinion of human nature.

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  8. I don’t kniow about income equality, but the bigger the inncome gap between the rich and the poor, the higher the crime rate. It is not poverty that causes crime (as some people like to think). Criminals don’t spend their ill-gootten gains on feeding their starving families, they spend them on lavish parties and conspicuous consumption.

    So if you think crime is cool, widen the income gap.

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  9. Empathy……imaginary feelings when you can’t afford your own.

    Attention Deficit Disorder – I’m boring, I suck better drug them so nobody finds out.

    Sustainable Teaching : ok kids…repeat after me 1 plus 1 is three. Now let’s move on to our abd’s. When you all grow up you can go to college and pay for the real answer.

    Multi-Tasking : I’ll do 6 things half assed instead of one thing really well. Cause I’m just that special.

    Work Life Balance : One-body problem in a multi-body environment.

    Income inequality : “I’m not worthy”, that’s right get back in line.

    Two-body problem : bi-polar employment resulting in bi-polar esteem.

    Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned : does this mean only men go to hell.

    Intelligence: an environmental compatibility standard frequently breeched by the clever and maintained by the disinterested.

    Consciousness is an environmentally friendly way of keeping your meat fresh without the hazardous chemicals of refrigeration.

    Comas have a best before date.

    Gender is a social construct except when social is a gender construct.

    Oppressive Patriarchy : when you can’t define liberty or prove you can be free.

    Sexism : foreplay

    Pornography : five play

    All men are rapists but not all men are like that.

    Feminism is a struggle for equality by people who do not struggle equally.

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  10. Here’s another good piece on income inequality. http://www2.ucsc.edu/whorulesamerica/power/wealth.html I don’t mind this phrase, it’s just shorthand.

    I cannot stand “two-body problem” which I learned in the blogosphere. There seem to me to be a lot of nasty presuppositions in it, which I haven’t unpacked too well. My visceral reaction to it is probably unfair but I think it’s a cry-baby kind of phrase – “oh, it’s so hard, I am so discriminated against, I am married to someone who also has a specialized professional career, people just can’t understand…”

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    1. ” “oh, it’s so hard, I am so discriminated against, I am married to someone who also has a specialized professional career, people just can’t understand…””

      – Totally. 🙂 🙂

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