Saturday, May 3, 2008

M'Aidez!: An Analysis of Syntax and Semantics in Academic Paper Titles

Thanks to everyone who lent me their support last week when I presented my Master's Thesis at the MA Workshop. I had a good time, and received several very insightful and helpful questions about my paper, "Authority, Justification, and Intelligibility in Fear and Trembling." Now, I hear you mocking my title. But, frankly, coming up with the title for an academic paper is a really tricky thing. I like mine short and to the point. (I am still quite pleased with the title of my BA Thesis: "Somethings About the Meanings of Some Words in English." What more do you need to know?)

Too often, titles follow the basic (rather boring) template of: "Blah-ing the Blah Blah: Blah, Blah, and Blah." For example, from the January 2007 issue of Mind: Vagueness and Arbitrariness: Merricks on Composition, or Theories of Meaning and Logical Truth: Edwards versus Davidson . As you can see, these titles also tend to include a lot of technical-philosophical jargon, such as "arbitrariness" or "logical truth". (Which usually mean something completely different from what they ordinarily mean when they're in a philosophy journal.)

Of course, philosophers are not the only ones who like to adhere to this format - they just find a way to do it without any style or joy. For example, the Summer 2002 edition of the Journal of Modern Literature includes the following gems: Loving Freud Madly: Surrealism between Hysterical and Paranoid Modernism , Oedipus in Dystopia: Freud and Lawrence in Aldous Huxley's "Brave New World" , and 'Queen of the Niggerati' and the Nile: The Isis-Osiris Myth in Zora Neale Hurston's "Their Eyes Were Watching God". That last one is just a little too wordy for my taste. But you get the idea: the articles in the philosophy journal treat their titles in a very utilitarian way: "Thing and Thing: Person doing Thing". Short, to the point, no wasted words. The literature articles, however, take a few more liberties with their titles. They try to "catch" you with a catchy "hook"; "Loving Freud Madly? That sounds scandalous!" you say to yourself, or "Oedipus is in Dystopia? How's that guy going to get out of this crazy situation!" or "I don't know who or what the "Queen of the Niggerati" is, and the only way to find out is to pick up this academic journal!" And so on, and so forth.

Of course, the French take article titles to a-whole-nother level, especially when it comes to Derrida. In 1979, he wrote an article entitled: Scribble (writing-power) . What? I mean... what? And everyone knows how the French adore their puns. Well, when this trend leaks into an English-language journal, the results can be ridiculous: "Taking Sides" (On History): Derrida Re-Marx .Get it? "Re-Marx"? "remarks"? Hahahaha! The only thing better than a pun is a Marxist pun!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

keep those re- marx coming!