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The 20 Most Overused Words in Academia

by Staff Writers

College frequently proves to be the most intellectually stimulating years of one’s life. Unfortunately, it also means navigating an exhausting gauntlet of pretense and jargon. Of course, using such terminology doesn’t inherently render the speaker an academic blowhard. But that doesn’t diminish the fact that some of these words just need a bit of a rest before they lose their punch entirely.

By no means should anyone take this article even remotely seriously. The author has used plenty of these words unironically and speaks from experience and a willingness to draw personal laughs. Academia can be hilarious and absurd — it shouldn’t always have to be treated with stiff formality at all times.

  1. Capitalist: Whether sitting in economics class or dissecting the latest modern art display, capitalism inevitably crawls into the conversation. Even those agreeing with its tenets probably grow weary of hearing constant academic commentary.

  2. Comparative: Almost anyone with a liberal arts degree cringes whenever they hear this word outside the confines of a classroom. After all, they spent at least 4 years of their lives comparing literature, religion, politics, philosophy and pretty much every other everything ever.

  3. Comprehensive: When used in reference to finals, watch and be amazed as college students cross their eyes, begin foaming at the mouth and start flailing across the quad. "Comprehensive" is not only an overused word, it’s also incredibly evil…depending on the context, of course.

  4. Cultural: Sure, "cultural" is already a relatively common word, but academics tend to let it flow as freely as cocaine at Studio 54. Presumably, this is because they want their oft-captive audiences to think them ever so worldly and knowledgeable.

  5. Dichotomy: The ubiquity of "dichotomy" understandably happens due to its near-universal relevance — pretty much every degree plan will involve studying at least one. Just grit those teeth and soldier on, as there’s not exactly any real way to avoid crashing into the word.

  6. Disaspora: As a word, a right fair amount of majors sigh the seven hundred millionth time they have to hear about "disapora." But as a concept, it is entirely necessary for them to understand the social, political, anthropological, sociological, psychological and economic elements.

  7. Empirical: No matter one’s major, he or she will likely encounter "empirical" over and over and over and over and over and over and probably over again. It’s an essential component of debate and rhetoric, but would it kill professors to use a few synonyms for variety’s sake?

  8. Experience: Experience and education take long walks on the beach at sunset every night — they’re pretty much inseparable. Despite this, though, students get sick of hearing about it from professors, parents, administrators and each other.

  9. Feminist: Feminism is a great thing — it grants women an equal place in society and smashes vestiges of inequality and abuse worldwide. But that doesn’t mean the word itself doesn’t experience a hefty amount of overuse, particularly when it comes to describing females’ creative pursuits.

  10. Hegemony: There exists no aesthetically (not so much denotatively, unfortunately) sexier term than "hegemony." But college students know all too well that even hotness gets tiresome after repeated exposure, especially if it keeps repeating the exact same points.

  11. Imperialist: Very little good comes of imperialism, and if humanity hopes to move forward and promote piece, it’ll have to slough off the ravages. Academics bring it up ad nauseum since the mindset continues to cause problems and fully deserves quelling, but that doesn’t mean their students genuinely enjoy constantly hearing about all things colonialist.

  12. Influence: English majors know about "The Anxiety of Influence" all too well, but the fatigue plagues plenty of collegiates outside that particular degree plan. Scientists estimate that between 83% and 95% of university essays deal with how someone or something influenced someone or something else.

  13. Inquiry: Professors use "inquiry" because "research" and "questions" don’t sound lofty and/or formal enough. There is currently no known cure for this word’s rampant (and contagious) abuse, although eye-rolling and sighing can help alleviate some of the listener’s associated symptoms.

  14. Jungian: Carl Jung may be lucky enough to have an entire school of thought named after him, but even he might grow exhausted with hearing about himself constantly. "Jungian" is the "Kafkaesque" of the social sciences, but it certainly creeps its way into the literary, visual and performing arts on a regular basis.

  15. Marginalized: Like plenty of other terms mentioned here, few will deny that the concepts themselves absolutely deserve attention — and "marginalized" enjoys no exception. Students should listen to voices stuck on the fringes of society; they also have the right to hear the idea relayed with different words.

  16. Marxist: When rampant discussion of capitalism grows too repetitive, college kids can turn their attention towards courses overanalyzing its polar opposite! Marxism apparently permeates everything, not just politics and economics, and even detractors will dedicate hefty amounts of time to it.

  17. Myth: Joseph Campbell may be amazing and important, but even his excellent points can’t entirely override myth fatigue. Dispelling them certainly bolsters education, of course, though pretty much every discipline will overwhelm students with this component at some point.

  18. Pedagogy: Good luck getting those freshmen to listen to anything with the prefix "peda-" or "pedo-" these days — all they’ll think about are anime bears and Chris Hansen. Besides sounding kinda sketchy without actually being as such, it actually sports a simple, straightforward definition; one more easily conveyed using layman’s terms.

  19. Postmodern: Ask any supposed scholar constantly tossing around "postmodern" (and its myriad grammatical forms) about inverting binaries and poststructuralism. Should the subject stumble or fail to mention any of the associated philosophers, it pretty much means he or she is really just using the word to sound all learned and sophisticated — a rather common, wholly tragic condition amongst the university crowd.

  20. Society: The entirety of college life and learning can be summed up in just one lesson — it’s all society’s fault. While everyone disagrees over the minute details, the one thing they all have in common involves yoking all the blame onto everyone else.