31 March 2010


Eumerdification: writing to impress academics

Deep in the notes at the back of philosopher Daniel Dennett's 2006 book Breaking the Spell, there's a funny little story:

John Searle once told me about a conversation he had with the late Michel Foucault: "Michel, you're so clear in conversation; why is your written work so obscure?" To which Foucault replied, "That's because, in order to be taken seriously by French philosophers, twenty-five percent of what you write has to be impenetrable nonsense." I have coined a term for this tactic, in honour of Foucault's candor: eumerdification.

The word is much nicer in French, since in English it would be something like shittifying. So here's the definition:

Making academic writing at least 25% incomprehensible crap, to seem smarter.

I love that. I suspect there's some eumerdification in this article I reformatted several years ago.

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Love it. I try to de-eumerdify my own academic writing. Not sure how successful I am!
Foucault is the master of eumerdification! Hilarious that he actually acknowledges it. I find it odd that so many academics engage in it (probably because other academics do, so they think they have to), as the best articles and talks I've seen from academics are the ones that are in plain English.

Personally, I refer to myself as an "academic-to-English translator" (read: I tell my colleagues and students to "speak English!" when they are writing or giving presentations) as I have a total stick up my ass about academics using necessary words and phrases to try and make themselves feel like they are smart.
Thanks so much for posting this. Now I don't feel like such a blockhead for not understanding all those authors (including Foucault) I had to read in my literary criticism class.