University | 10:37 am | February 19, 2013 | By Karin Shedd

How a layperson understands section

Confused about words in section? Let the News help you.
Confused about words in section? Let the News help you. Photo by Twice25 / Creative Commons.

For most of my life growing up in the ultra-burbs of rural western Nebraska, I always knew that I had at least one talent that exceeded the capabilities of many of my peers: a dazzlingly vast vocabulary. My peers frequently asked if I “really talked like that” (very true) and occasionally theorized that I did it purposefully to assert an air of intellectual superiority (only a little true).

But then I arrived at Yale and discovered – in what should’ve been the world’s least-shocking culture shock – that everyone else also has the skill I once clung to as my own, my identifier. It was like discovering that I had been speaking a slightly different dialect for 18 years, but didn’t realize it until I was surrounded by people who spoke it, too.

Eventually, lecturing professors and prattling section assholes made it obnoxiously clear that my lexical prowess wasn’t quite as impressive as I had previously thought, and I reduced Google to basic dictionary-status with my constant searches for word definitions. My vocabulary expanded exponentially over the course of a year and a half, but always asymptotically to full Yale-level linguistic comprehension. There exist several words that are apparently the Rosetta Stone of avoiding the desperate “I don’t know what’s going on here, but I’m going to attempt to word-vomit up something that sounds relevant to get my participation credit” feeling we all experience from time to time, but whose definitions my brain refuses to remember for longer than it takes me to open a new Chrome tab to Facebook.

Here they are, defined both by the Internet and yours truly.

Postmodern

What it is: ”the era that follows modernism. Ambiguous overarching term for skeptical interpretations of culture, literature, art, philosophy, economics, architecture, fiction and literary criticism.”

What I think it is: a hipster-y way to refer to the future, because saying “the future” is too modern.

Hegemony

What it is:  ”Leadership, predominance, preponderance; esp. the leadership or predominant authority of one state of a confederacy or union over the others.”

What I think it is: a store for hedge-fund managers. Similar to a haberdashery in its excessively specific wares, but different in that it caters particularly to the desires of those who manage piles of money shaped like shrubs (see my next blog for “things I don’t understand about the finance world”).

Hubris

What it is: ”Presumption, orig. towards the gods; pride, excessive self-confidence.”

What I think it is: a particular subspecies of tobacco smoked exclusively in the hand-carved mahogany pipes of bearded old Oxford professors wearing tweed jackets, likely while discussing postmodern hegemonies.

Heuristic

What it is: ”experience-based techniques for problem solving, learning and discovery.”

What I think it is: a detailed list of prior wrongdoings employed as a tactical advantage in arguments of an interpersonal nature. “Oh, you’re angry that I didn’t clean the litter box? Allow me to consult my handy-dandy heuristic to remind you of the time you made a ‘your mom’ joke in a drunken toast at my sister’s wedding.”

Semiotic

What it is: “the study of signs as elements of communication.”

What I think it is: partially erotic. Like, if Kate Upton in a string bikini is erotic, then Kate Upton in a sweater and jeans is semiotic.”

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