The Anti-Slump: Unpacking those buzzwords


I have a long and troubled history with epistemology. I have no beef with the branch of philosophy that it refers to, but the word itself caused me a good deal of grief last year.

Like, I presume, most first years, I arrived at Brown with little knowledge of academic buzzwords. One of the most intimidating things about being in class as a first year is the volume of specialized vocabulary that you seemingly must learn in order to receive a passing grade and/or carry on a coherent conversation. (Let me add here that during freshman fall I took a couple of Anthro classes, which are essentially glorified buzzword orgies.)

Some of the most common academic catchphrases are easy enough to understand. To “unpack” is to dissect the complex meaning of a phrase, action, or thought; a “dichotomy” happens when there are two things; and “problematizing” is the process of realizing that something you like actually sucks.


Me, circa freshman year, moments before I learned that everything is terrible.

But epistemology? The only explanation I got was that it was different from, but also kinda similar to, ontology. Well fuck.

It took me about eight months to get a straight answer from anyone about the definition of epistemology. Turns out its the theory of how knowledge is created. So, by examining how I know the word epistemology, I am engaging in a an epistemological inquiry. Yikes.

I returned as a sophomore armed to the teeth with snappy, intellectual-sounding terms. And guess who showed up on the first day of shopping period: My dear friend epistemology. Indeed, we had only made it five minutes into the lesson before someone dropped the E word.

I immediately decided to drop the class, but not because I don’t understand the significance of epistemology. It’s just that now that I’m a sophomore, I see that our dependence on academic buzzwords is a bit problematic.

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