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Scathing Online Schoolmarm Says: There’s a Kind of Bad Writing You Can Only Learn at College.

Here’s an example, from a Georgetown University senior who argues in the school paper (the piece has now been taken down) (the piece seems to have been put back up) that his recent mugging by gunpoint in Georgetown was a product of economic disparities.

Who am I to stand from my perch of privilege, surrounded by million-dollar homes and paying for a $60,000 education, to condemn these young men as ‘thugs?’ … It’s precisely this kind of ‘otherization’ that fuels the problem …

As young people, we need to devote real energy to solving what are collective challenges. Until we do so, we should get comfortable with sporadic muggings and break-ins. I can hardly blame [the muggers]. The cards are all in our hands, and we’re not playing them.

Amid this clutch of cliches, a single word really stands out – otherization.

The writer has enhanced this already lovely term by growing quotation marks for it.


The conservative press is having lots of fun with this student’s effort to understand his mugger. SOS, as always, is more concerned with the lamentable prose he has brought to his claims, the learned raid on the articulate (to mess with TS Eliot a bit) this writing represents.

Especially if you’re going to argue something unpopular (people in our cities who stick guns in our faces and force us to the ground at night in order to take all of our goods should be objects of sympathy), you need your writing to be really good. In this particular case, you somehow need your words to convey your grasp of the complexity of the problem of crime, and your understanding that most of your readers aren’t going to agree with your position on it, even as you defend your non-standard take. Instead, this writing seems to flaunt the superior morality of the writer, a person able to rise above the lowly rage and terror the rest of us are likely to have felt in his situation. SOS knows he didn’t mean to convey this, but precisely the use of super-abstract jargon like otherization suggests a weirdly disengaged, hyper-theoretical disposition …

Margaret Soltan, November 27, 2014 1:19AM
Posted in: bad writing, Scathing Online Schoolmarm

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4 Responses to “Scathing Online Schoolmarm Says: There’s a Kind of Bad Writing You Can Only Learn at College.”

  1. Michael Tinkler Says:

    I like the idea of a more-active-in-his-self-defense Georgetown student waving a _Portable_Lacan_ at a threatening person and screaming “Back off or I’m going to OTHERIZE you!”

  2. Margaret Soltan Says:

    Michael: LOL.

  3. janet gool Says:

    Stockholm Syndrome – Not Otherwise Specified. Better let the DSM people know.

  4. Margaret Soltan Says:

    janet: Yes – people have been writing about the piece as an example of Stockholm Syndrome.

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