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Big Words on Campus

Words That Spike in Lookups When Students Return to School


When students return to campus each year, we see a spike in lookups of terms popular in academia. We hope this list helps shed light on these words.

Definition:

: the beliefs, customs, arts, etc., of a particular society, group, place, or time

Example:

"Architectures of Globalization: Contested Spaces of Global Culture" - title of a course at University of California, Berkeley

About the Word:

Culture has an ancestor in the Latin cultura, meaning "cultivation." Both land (agricultura) and people (cultura animi, "cultivation of the soul," in the words of the Roman Cicero) can be cultivated ("improved by labor, care, or study").

Definition:

: the use of words to express something other than and especially the opposite of the literal meaning

Example:

"It is the oldest ironies that are still the most satisfying: man, when preparing for bloody war, will orate loudly and most eloquently in the name of peace." ― Alan Moore, Watchmen, published as a collection in 1987

About the Word:

Students study various forms of irony, ranging from dramatic irony to verbal irony. The word irony itself traces back to the Greek character Eiron, a comic underdog whose wit enabled him to triumph over the boastful Alazon.

big-words-on-campus-metaphor-moby-dick
Photo: Wikipedia

Definition:

: a figure of speech in which a word or phrase literally denoting one kind of object or idea is used in place of another to suggest a likeness or analogy between them (as in drowning in money); broadly : figurative language

Example:

"Is 'Moby Dick' a metaphor for the struggle of trying to read 'Moby Dick'?" – Tweet from @ColbertReport, August 16, 2013

About the Word:

The Greek ancestor of metaphor meant "to transfer; change." The metaphor transfers a name for something to another thing in order to suggest likeness between the two, as in Homer's repeated use of "the wine-dark sea."

A mixed metaphor combines different metaphorical images or ideas in a way that is foolish or illogical, like this quotation reported in the Chicago Tribune in 2007: "So now what we are dealing with is the rubber meeting the road, and instead of biting the bullet on these issues, we just want to punt."

Definition:

: the study of writing or speaking as a means of communication or persuasion

Example:

"Rhetoric courses help students to develop skills in speaking, writing, listening, and critical reading. They also build competence in research and inquiry as well as in analysis and persuasion, especially in the area of understanding public controversies in their social contexts." - University of Iowa General Catalog

About the Word:

Since the ancients, educators have been teaching the skills of eloquent speaking and writing. (The Greek word rhētorikē literally meant "art of oratory.") But smooth talking makes people suspicious, which is why one modern sense of rhetoric is "insincere or grandiloquent language."

Definition:

: a story in which the characters and events are symbols that stand for ideas about human life or for a political or historical situation

Example:

"Set in the director's native Johannesburg, [the movie District 9] didn't declare itself an allegory of apartheid, yet it needled away unmistakably at racial injustice." - Anthony Lane, The New Yorker, August 12, 2013

About the Word:

Parables, myths, and fables are all considered types of allegories, a concept dating back to ancient times - for example Plato's famous allegory of the cave, where cave-dwelling prisoners mistake shadows for reality.

The Greek ancestor of allegory means "to speak figuratively."

Definition:

: involving or serving as an aid to learning, discovery, or problem-solving by experimental and especially trial-and-error methods

Example:

"There are two basic mechanisms involved in picking up new words. First there is the heuristic approach, in which the child is able to infer the meaning of a word when it is spoken by relying on external cues, such as following the gaze of the speaker - or having the object described by the word pointed out to them..." - Jennifer Ouellette, ScientificAmerican.com, August 6, 2013

About the Word:

Heuristic methods help solve problems (as when the evaluation of feedback improves performance in a heuristic computer program).

This investigative approach to problem solving is found in the ancestry of heuristic: the Greek heuriskein "to discover" shares a common ancestor with the Old Irish fuar, meaning "I have found."

Definition:

: a particular theory or conception of beauty or art : a particular taste for or approach to what is pleasing to the senses and especially sight

Example:

"[Univ. of Illinois professor Cele Otnes] likens [Downton Abbey] to Mad Men - 'It's not just a television program, it's really an aesthetic' - and cites reported rises in sales of cravats, waistcoats and sherry as evidence of a 'Downton' - driven appetite for Edwardian elegance." - Jill Lawless, Associated Press, August 15, 2013

About the Word:

Aesthetic is rooted in the Greek term for "to perceive." In its plural form, aesthetics refers to a branch of philosophy that deals with the nature of beauty, art, and taste and with the creation and appreciation of beauty. This sense of the word isn't as common as the one above, but students may encounter it in course catalogs.

Definition:

: the inclusion of different types of people (such as people of different races or cultures) in a group or organization

Example:

"Despite claims by news organizations that they value and promote diversity, the numbers in this year's study show 90 percent of newsroom supervisors from participating news organizations were white." - Riva Gold, TheAtlantic.com, July 9, 2013

About the Word:

Although diversity is sometimes considered a buzzword, the term first appeared in the 14th century. Between 1970 and 2000, when it became associated with multiculturalism, its use in print nearly tripled.

Definition:

: to commit literary theft : to present as new and original an idea or product derived from an existing source

Example:

"For students today, the lure of plagiarizing and the temptation to cheat might appear overwhelming; it's at the fingertips, at their keyboard." - Gina Barreca, PsychologyToday.com blog December 18, 2012

About the Word:

The seriousness of this offense is reflected in the linguistic history of plagiarize: it comes from the noun plagiary, a synonym of plagiarism that originally meant "kidnapper."

Pedagogy

Definition:

: the art, science, or profession of teaching; especially the field of study that deals mainly with methods of teaching and learning in schools

Example:

"Yet for all the lip service that modern pedagogy pays to the precept that 'all children can learn,' rare are the educators who believe this enough to push such students toward their full academic potential." - Esther J. Cepeda, The Washington Post, August 11, 2013

About the Word:

Like pediatrician, pedagogy has an ancestor in ped-, meaning "child." Pedagogy dates to the late 1500s but has a recent offspring: Andragogy, meaning "the art or science of teaching adults," was coined in 1970 using andr- (meaning "man") and "agogy" from pedagogy.




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