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:

Social 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.

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