Official New Entry In The Lexicon of Love.

I went to a party a few days ago. Two of my friends have these lavish gatherings every 6 to 12 months. Sometimes it’s celebrating a specific event. Sometimes it’s for the hell of it.

This time, as they revealed in a speech before dinner, it was for a specific and rather special event. After years of living together and then a civil partnership, they had got married.

When they turned up at the town hall at the arranged time, they told us, they were greeted with a strange bit of terminology. The official said to them: “Are you here for the conversion?”

It was his word for moving from civil partnership to marriage.  Was it one individual’s quirky vocab?  Seemingly not. I googled it and, sure enough, the official word is conversion.

Now, round my way, conversion is a word more associated with lofts than lovers. For others, it’s pounds to kilos or gas to electric. For followers of league and union, it’s what you try after a try. Or for those of religious persuasion, it’s Saint Paul seeing the Damascene light.

But for my friends, conversion had different connotations. As one of them explained: “We thought it was a last ditch attempt to switch us to heterosexuality.”

It’s great they saw the funny side and shared the joke. However, in the context of finally being able to marry the person you love in the way that most of society has done for centuries, is “conversion” the best the official committee could come up with? Isn’t there a more joyful, charming word than “conversion” that would encapsulate the state of love and marriage? Did the committee even try too hard?

That’s why, if you’re ever on the Official Committee for Naming, and you get stuck with a flat “conversion”, you could try one of two things: i) Send your naming conundrum to the Department of Words; or ii) Do what they did in the Town Planning Department of Leeds City Council. Don’t take it too seriously. (See their work below.)

cavalierapproach

 

 

On Bullshit

bullshit-detector

If you’ve ever sat through a bad presentation by a researcher or planner. If you’ve ever had to listen to an investor update. Or an awful CEO speech. Or listen to a recruiter sell you a job. Or – Christ – read a group email that starts by apologising for the ‘All staffer’. Then you’ll love this.

Alan Sokal is a US-born physics professor at University College London. He once called ‘BULLSHIT!’ so loudly he had an affair named after him.

This is him.

Alan Sokal: Lady Killer

Alan Sokal: Lady Killer

And this is The Sokal Affair.

Like many before and after him in many different fields, he was worried that mediocre – or even incompetent – people in academia were hiding behind a language culture. The high priests of each discipline were claiming their jargon was no more than necessary specialist terminology. When it was actually a smokescreen hiding the fact that the emperor wasn’t wearing any clothes.

So, in 1996, he came up with a J’accuse-style plan.

He submitted a paper to Social Text, a prominent cultural studies journal. In his words he wanted to investigate whether: ‘a leading North American journal of cultural studies – whose editorial collective includes such luminaries as Fredric Jameson and Andrew Ross – would publish an article liberally salted with nonsense if (a) it sounded good and (b) it flattered the editors’ ideological preconceptions’.

It was called ‘Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity’ and it declared that ‘it is becoming increasingly apparent that physical “reality” is fundamentally a social and linguistic construct.’

In case one might be tempted to argue that gravity is more that just a product of words, he added that science is ‘self-referential, it cannot assert a privileged epistemological status with respect to counterhegemonic narratives emanating from dissident or marginalized communities.’

Wonderful stuff.

But his next move was even better.

The same day that the issue of the journal containing his paper came out, he published another article in a magazine about life in academia pointing out that his Social Text paper was full to the brim with, well, we know what.

Have a read – it’s wonderful. And it applies to nearly every walk of life. As he concludes, ‘Why should self-indulgent nonsense…be lauded as the height of…achievement?’