Written Rambles

Words That Your Liberal Arts College Thinks You Should Know

I go to a liberal arts college. It’s small. It’s pricey. It forces me to take math and science classes even though my brain craves heartfelt discussions about Shakespeare and film techniques. Overall, it’s a delightful place. While I have taken over twenty courses at my little school in a variety of different areas, I keep coming across a collection of words that makes me think all of my professors are plotting to brainwash the student body. Why else would they keep repeating these words in class other than to turn them into trigger words so that someday, when one of us is near the Prime Minister or Jennifer Lawrence or someone else of high status, a passing stranger can whisper the word “commodity” and send us into a murderous frenzy? It’s not like professors actually want us to learn these words, right? Right??


Though “fetish” can refer to a number of non-PG-13 things, including the punch-line of your inappropriate uncle’s favorite dinner party jokes, in the classroom, it often refers to the inflation of the physical beauty of an object for the purpose of making it appear less threatening. In old movies, women are often fetishized so that the main character, who is usually a male, can regain control over the narrative without a woman meddling in his business. (Hey, I didn’t make the rules.) We can see this most clearly in the opening number for Gold Diggers of 1933:

The camera zooms in on the singer’s face here in order to direct the attention to her features, not her words. Her sudden (and might I say, eerie) transition to Pig Latin further strips the character of her importance in the scene: if her words are meaningless, and her singing is meaningless, then what else is there to do but look at her face and admire it? She’s no longer a talented performer but rather, a pretty girl singing in a funny voice. She has been fetishized. (Keep in mind, there are plenty of other uses for “fetishism.” This is just the one that I’ve come across most often.) There, I just saved you four years of film school. Please send a check for 2 bazillion dollars to my house by the end of the week.


You know how, after 3 or 4 years of owning the same laptop, you start to complain about how old it is and how you need a new one? While part of that may be the fact that your screen is cracked the all of the vowel keys are missing, the other part of it relates to the commodification of goods. A commodity is an object that fulfills needs other than the specific use its designed to perform. When you buy a computer, for example, you don’t buy it just so that you can type up your essays. You buy it so that you can play games, talk to your friends, or silently declare your superiority over your classmates who may own less expensive laptops. In the last scenario, you’re using your laptop to show off, not “compute.” The need to constantly keep your laptop “new” is not because it has stopped working necessarily, but because you feel like it needs to stay “updated.”


When you watch your neighbor through his window in the middle of the night, you’re acting as a voyeur, someone who watches or observes without being seen. You’re also probably committing some sort of felony, so you should probably get out of that tree and go home. In all seriousness, voyeur or voyeurism is frequently used when referring to the cinema apparatus. Hitchcock’s Rear Window was one giant study on voyeurism. (It is also one giant study on how to MYOB, as my elementary school self would say.)


Post-modernism is the phase after modernism…I think. To be honest, out of all the phrases on this list, I’ve always found this one the most complicated. I can’t seem to grasp what Post-Modernism actually is, no matter how many times my professors lecture on it. All I know is that it is a period of time in which authority was questioned, fragmentation was the norm, and boundaries were blurry. I think Boromir says it best:

BoromirSocial Construct

I cheated. This entry is two words instead of one, but it felt too important to exclude. If you’ve attended a class at a liberal arts university, or any university for that matter, you’ve likely heard the sentence “So-and-so is a social construct.” This is just a fancy way of saying that “so-and-so” is determined by arbitrary social rules, not physical ones. I could launch into why race is a social construct, but by the end, I’d have 500 pages of pure analysis that no one on the Internet actually wants to read.

I’ve never studied at a larger university before so I can’t say if these words only show up at liberal arts schools. I’ve constructed this list purely from my own experiences. But I’m curious: what other terms constantly come up in your liberal arts education? Do they match any of the ones on my list or is the repetition of these words simply the result of poorly planned lectures?

Image via Shutterstock.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=501101269 Michelle Tiffany Anderson


  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=72612671 Justin Meyer

    i’ll do my best at post-modernism, though i do love boromir’s take.

    trying to broaden one’s scope and horizon past what exists, and to, so to speak, take your head out of your ass and smell the roses.

    unfortunately, with post-modernism, the roses sometimes smell like ass due to where your head just came from.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=679222231 Nicolas Courchamp

    ” I can’t seem to grasp what Post-Modernism actually is, no matter how many times my professors lecture on it. ”

    Don’t worry I’m doing a P.H.D in american litterature that requires a lot of reading about post-modernism, I have 7 books on post-modernism on my desk and I can assure you that they aren’t two authors or critics that agree about the definition of post-modernism.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=72612671 Justin Meyer

    possibly because it’s ‘beyond us’?


  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=61802314 Christine Renee Hand Jones

    Google “explaining postmodernism with cats” and click on the first result. I use that blog entry all the time to teach postmodernism to my (college liberal arts) students. Even if you still don’t understand postmodernism, you do get to look at cat pictures. :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=532794929 Bec Cushway


  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100002048126186 Liesbeth Juta

    Closely related to the ‘Voyeur’ is ‘The Male Gaze’, infinitely popular among feminist theorists, for the obvious bashing. It basically indicates that all male artists are sexist perverts and that art is most often created from a male perspective, with women merely functioning as objects to behold. Having a woman’s perspective on the same situation is often referred to with terms such as ‘challenging the male gaze’.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100002048126186 Liesbeth Juta

    Post-modernism, from what I understand (though I doubt if it can be fully understood at all) has to do with copies. We can copy everything and everything is a copy of something else, with a new element added to it. Think Andy Warhol with his Marilyn M. copies, or with the copies of tinned cans, which by itself is a perfect copy of a prototype. Think intertextuality, in which a text by one author or poet is echoed within the text of another. While this used to be an artist’s privilege, nowadays with the internet, the copying machine available to us all and the copy-paste, everyone can do it. It has been suggested that, therefore, Post-Modernism is no more; it died in the early 1990s, when Internet and computers became available to us all. In a way, we’ve all become Post-Modernists (waat!)

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=679222231 Nicolas Courchamp

      @Juta “we can copy everything and everything is a copy of something else” is more related to modernism than post-modernism. Like Ulysse by James Joyce, which is one of the most famous modernist novel and whose title is already a reference to another famous work.

      Problem is: definying modernism and post-modernism as relations between texts is always tricky because at some point there is always someone to argue that in this case Shakespeare is a modernist or a post-modernist because his plays are interconnected to pre-existent stories as well or something silly like that.

      As for the death of post-modernism, that’s debatable because you still have writers who are clearly post-modern writers like Pynchon or DeLillo but there is indeed a new movement called post-post modernism or meta-modernism (i think) which mixes caracteristics of both post-modernism and modernism (and yes it’s even more difficult to understand than post-modernism!)

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