Maslow’s Hammer (n)

A phrase coined by Abraham Maslow in his 1966 book The Psychology of Science where he described the phenomenon:

I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.

or, more popularly

“if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail”

This useful phrase (read as: tool) has many applications.  But for the purposes of graduate school, it relates to the remarkable ability of blinkered graduate students to inflict themselves on any given conversation, in order to demonstrate how the topic at hand indeed relates to his/her own dissertation.  Even if it doesn’t.  And it usually doesn’t.

Related: the propensity of early-stage graduate students to inflict a particular lens (i.e., whatever new theory, or old one they happen to be most familiar with) on any, and every situation, effectively smashing any productive conversation.

Thankfully, this is usually just a phase.

Related: Alexander Pope’s Essay on Criticism:

A little learning is a dangerous thing; drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring: there shallow draughts intoxicate the brain, and drinking largely sobers us again.

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intrinsic (adj)

Or most commonly, intrinsically (adv) meaning “belonging to the very nature of a thing.”

1480-90; < Medieval Latin intrinsecus inward (adj.), Latin (adv.), equivalent to intrin- (int(e)r-, as in interior + -im adv. suffix) + secus beside, derivative of sequī to follow

A word that is tremendously overused, often redundantly, i.e., “intrinsic nature.” Suffers from the problem of employing the word “nature” in its definition, whatever that word means.  Etymologically, we see an interesting logic: intrinsic means “inside” and “beside,” the extrapolation here being that something that is both inside a thing and beside a thing is fundamentally a part of its “nature.”

Very closely related to “fundamentally.”

nonfunctional slack-fill

(noun).  This complex phrase is FDA legalese.  Found this one on a recent Planet Money episode on class action lawsuits.

Nonfunctional slack-fill is empty space in packaging that serves no purpose.  Potato chips, for example, have functional slack-fill in their packaging because the empty air in a potato chip bag protects the chips from pulverization. Nonfunctional slack-fill is when a seller deliberately deceives the consumer with excessive packaging.  As the Russian idiom goes, “all feathers, no fluff.”

Or, in academese, synonyms include: padding, fluff, filler, bullshit, and–at its worst–rhetoric.