Journalism and Academics have something in common: the desire to look clever by using language in a novel and unique way. Journalists use the “pun” while Academics use the “metaphor.”
In Journalism, at least at the local and national level, the goal is to (mostly) inform. As we’ve moved into more of a politically charged climate and as ratings have become more and more important, the strict neutrality and objectivity of the (mainstream) news media has become less and less stringent, allowing certain stations to take on a (or be perceived as having) an ideological bent (Walter Cronkite was a different newsperson than Dan Rather who is a different newsperson than David Muir, but I digress). One constant in the profession is that journalists like using the pun as a way to cleverly connect the audience with a story or use it to end a story (especially at the end of a telecast). On national news, the puns tend to be more adroit, while on local news, the puns to tend towards the groan-worthy. The various morning shows seem to feature a mix of adroit and groan-worthy puns.
I relate this because as I do more and more reading in the field of pure academics, I’m noticing similarities between the two professions. Instead of the pun, academics prefer the metaphor: we prefer linking an idea to some other thing or idea that has come before or is the purvey of another field and wrapping our ideas, theories, and concepts in the shell of another idea. The easiest way that I can describe this is Einstein’s conception of space-time. We liken it to a “rubber-sheet” and gravity acts like “balls” rolling on the sheet, creating “distortions” in the very fabric of space-time. Now, I would argue that we need that level of abstraction because most of us don’t have the mathematical ability to follow Einstein’s equations and proofs. However, even in the field of English, I find that we use similar “metaphors” to describe our theories.
I’m not opposed to the use of metaphors, per se, and sometimes I like the challenge of figuring our (like a detective) what metaphor that the author is using to describe his/her theories. My problem, like the journalistic puns that are groan-worthy, is that many authors use the metaphor to appear clever and make their articles so dense with metaphors and tortured syntax that it obfuscates rather than enlightens. There seems to be a notion that if it is scholarly, it must be dense and hard to read, when in fact, the opposite should be the case. Einstein was a smart man, but without the ability for the general public to understand his idea, we wouldn’t have an accurate perception of space-time. I would argue that scholars need to do the same: simplify and explain rather than be dense and rich in metaphors just to show off their knowledge.
In my opinion, it is much harder to simply explain a difficult concept than it is to make a simple concept seem difficult.