Words I hope never to use: Epistemology

epistemology: the theory of knowledge, esp. with regard to its methods, validity, and scope. Epistemology is the investigation of what distinguishes justified belief from opinion.

As with all of the words that end up in this blog category, “epistemology” is a perfectly appropriate word to use…in extremely rare situations. And one of those situations is not when trying to prove to readers that you are hip to the postmodernist jive-talk just like they are, so, hey, will you cool kids let me hang out with you? Puhleeze? I promise I can be aloof, obtuse, and irrelevant!

Seriously. If you’re talking about someone’s view of the world, just use “world view.” It gets to the point and doesn’t have any of the I’m-smarter-than-you-and-I-don’t-think-truth-exists connotations that come along with “epistemology.”

Words I hope never to use: Ontology/Ontological

A new feature on the blog: words that are usually unnecessarily thrown about in the historical profession, and that I hope never to use. Today’s hope-I-never-use-it word: ontological. This is apparently to do with the “nature of being,” but I have yet to see it used in such a way as to make sense. The example in question is from a 1998 article in History and Theory by A.D. Moses about Daniel Goldhagen’s Hitler’s Willing Executioners: “By investing anti-Semitism with ontological status–eliminationist anti-Semitism as prime mover–Goldhagen undermines the agency and responsibility of his individual agent, which he elsewhere takes pains to establish” (pg. 217). I get the point–anti-Semitism was what defined the Germans–but is it really necessary to throw “ontology” out there? Why not just say “By making anti-Semitism the essence of being a German, Goldhagen undermines…”?