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A Skill That Rhymes with “Woolfitting”

There’s an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education by John Gravois that purports to be about “impostor syndrome” among academics, but it is really about the phenomenon of top-tier universities sponsoring seminars for their graduate students and junior faculty about ways to overcome impostor syndrome. The article proves true the maxim that for every sign of inadequacy, there is a PhD in education delivering a lecture about it (in snowclone parlance: A PhD in Education is the new MBA!). Meet Valerie Young, whose seminar at Columbia Gravois observed:

Ms. Young recommends various strategies to help her audiences attribute success to their intelligence and not to flukes or fakery. She suggests getting comfortable with a skill that rhymes with “woolfitting” and means something like “winging it.” It is a skill, she says, that many old-fashioned males treat as such, but that people with the impostor syndrome regard as a character flaw.

“A skill that rhymes with”—what? Oh! Gravois means bullshitting!

Isn’t it curious that, rather than blank the word (as in b—ing) or rely upon a suitable synonym to convey the meaning (such as improvising, faking it, or even Gravois’ own winging it), Gravois created an elaborate coded euphemism? It’s a code that has its own problems. It invites the metaphor, for example, of acting as if you are “a wolf in sheep’s clothing,” which is more malicious than bullshitting ever is. No one seems to have misinterpreted it yeta commenter on Metafilter figured it out—but none of the comments on the Chronicle‘s site make the code clearer. Indeed, they follow Gravois’ lead and reproduce the code, albeit with scare quotes, as if to say they too are playing his game. Who’s to say those scare quotes aren’t themselves a form of bullshitting? There would be a nice irony to that, but it would hardly be an argument in favor of the translucency of Gravois’ language.



woolfitting: making sure that the wool you’ve pulled over someone’s eyes fits.