I read this letter in Jim's APS News in which one is being advised not to use the word "seminal," and the article really pricked my interest. I particularly like the cockiness of the author, his dictatorial manner and voice as he goes about informing all of us why we might not want to use the word, "seminal," again. I thought maybe this could be the opening for a seminal piece on the word, seminal.
"A listserv for college educators that I belong to recently had a post recommending a "seminal article." A response gently suggest that we try to avoid the sexist and sexual words such as "seminal" and use alternatives such as groundbreaking, cutting edge, leading edge, and foundational.
This aroused much controversy in this usually decorous forum, with levels of passion usually reached among academics only for the topic of grade inflation. One side argued that the word seminal was innocuous, the issue trivial, and the reaction a symptom of political correctness run amok. The other side said that since many did find the word distasteful and alternatives were available, why not retire it except for use in its narrow, technical sense?
Soon after that episode, I received my March 2010 issue of APS News with its list of prize and award winners and found the following words used to describe the achievement: seminal(6), pioneering (4), leadership (4), contribution (3), groundbreaking (2), elucidation (2), original (1), brilliant (1), revolutionary (1), insightful (1).
While seminal was the winner, it seems we have good alternatives. At the risk of provoking a fresh round of protests in this venue, perhaps we could suggest to prize committees that they use these alternatives whenever possible."
Okay, so who among us has the cajones to go around policing the use of the word, seminal? If it's you, if you are just dickish enough, well . . . It looks like there might be a job for you in academia after all.
December 2015: Twitter Q&A Schedule
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