Woolly heads with extremal bunny ears end up in a literary black ...

Ideas

A WORD IN THE HAND: METATWADDLE

Woolly heads with extremal bunny ears end up in a literary black hole

A column to satisfy your inner grammar nerd

Journalist

Universities are wonderful institutions (there should be more of them and they should be better funded and everyone who qualifies to study further should be afforded the opportunity to do so and professors should get discounts at the movies) but even the most sainted body must contain some flaw. Academies of learning give us knowledge, they give us people able to invent penicillin, build rocket ships, perform heart transplants, design smart cities, run governments and understand poetry. But they also give us words that make things way more complicated than things should have the right to be.

As an example I quote a notice I received from my alma mater. I am still trying to understand this missive and I’ve been looking at it for quite some time. Years, it feels like. Here’s a small extract: “The Chair’s aims are to theorise contextually grounded understandings of diversity, difference and otherness, as these become salient through the current operations of power; to research how these dynamics are ‘at work’ empirically in specific sites and locations; and to develop knowledge and materials that address South African needs.”

Even without the mystifying single inverted commas around ‘at work’ (Eddie Izzard calls these “bunny ears” when they are indicated in verbal speech by people who make apostrophes in the air with their index fingers) this is a most unwieldy sentence. If I were to translate it into plain language, I think it would say something like this: “We are going to find out why people in different places are so different (and we’re going to use a lot ‘of words’ to do it).” But I could be wrong...

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