Learn to Speak Humanities
January 17, 2014

1. “Sort of.”

Context: A “filler word” for intelligent people.

For instance, “I’m sort of wondering what Derrida is sort of getting at here, on page 104, when he says, ‘My mother grabbed the tail of a dead cat and beat me over the head with its stiff body every day until I learned to bake French bread with the crusts just right.’ It’s like he’s sort of saying his childhood was sort of this framework for the later cultural archetypes he establishes.”

2. “Now that’s interesting.”

Context: A way of saying something may or may not have meaning. You’re not sure, but it may. Or may not.

For instance, “Now that’s interesting.” Or, “Now that’s interesting to me.” The seminar will either discuss this interesting point, or, perhaps more likely, classmates will nod slowly and raise eyebrows. Convey eagerness. Utterances may be made for you to “explore this idea” in a research paper or thesis. The interesting point and consequent acknowledgment of interestingness will end the dialogue; it will be left hanging like the Christmas lights you took down in May. You leave the conversation feeling slightly more intelligent and/or smug than when you began. (Until you remember those Christmas lights.)

3. “Now that’s interesting.”

Context: Note the difference in emphasis. This version of the phrase encourages further analysis. It is sometimes accompanied by a slight uptick in tone of voice, hinting at a question, but not really. Or maybe, if someone interprets it as a question.

For instance, “Now that’s interesting, because in the preantepenultimate paragraph, yeah, the one at the top, Defoe refers to how he has to ‘come home to the whores on Seventh Avenue/Tra la la.’” Unlike its counterpart, this iteration is a mechanism for opening dialogue. Or earning discussion cred before the subject changes to the confusing stuff.

4. The almost-question.


This “question” emerges around the time of Colloquia, Readings, Defenses, Panels, and Film Fests. Though not entirely useless in sparking conversation, these questions inevitably serve the dual purpose of demonstrating your knowledge and making you look like a windbag.

For instance, “I noticed in your TALK/RESEARCH/FILM, you dealt with this idea of the systematic response of women poets in the late 17th Century to embrace support systems offered to them by their writing peers, yet also be concerned with the reception and acceptance of their work in the larger social context of the courts or upper echelons of society where many of these writers dwelt. This is interesting to me [see other] because in my own work I’ve been asking these kinds of questions about how class, social structure, and the “Otherness” that came with this gendered authorial awareness may have impacted content, style, or reach of the work. Could you respond to that?”

The speaker will either:

a. Call your question interesting, and then talk about what they want to talk about;

b. Leap off the podium and bash in your head in with the frying pan they keep under a nearby chair for just this reason. They may say, “Was” BANG “that” BANG “even” BANG “a question?” BANG.

Or, the unlikely third option,

c. Thoughtfully respond to the “question” in a way that actually furthers the discussion.

5. Coffee.

Context: Coffee, coffee, coffee. Everyone is drinking coffee always. Hot, iced, mixed, steamed, sugared, flavored, always always always coffee.

(Fair trade organic beans from way far away that are then locally roasted and home ground preferred. Folgers is affordable.)

For instance, “I couldn’t mow my lawn without coffee. What am I saying, I don’t have a lawn.” Or, “I couldn’t be expected to be here this early and/or late without coffee.” Or, “Let’s go get coffee and complain more about how we’re getting paid to go to school and write self-effacingly. With coffee.”

The Higgs Weldon is a humor website with funny stories, articles, cartoons, and one liners. It was started by the Los Angeles stand-up comedy community, but takes submissions from everybody. Please read and enjoy our jokes!


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