Even the most ardent academic must concede that there’s something darkly funny about devoting years of one’s life to a thesis question so abstruse that no one else had ever cared enough to ask it—and then answering it at such great length that few will ever care to read it.
Enter lolmythesis.com, a Tumblr started by a Harvard senior procrastinating on her own undergraduate thesis. The blog encourages fellow undergrad and graduate students to distill all their hard-won knowledge into a single sentence—a sort of self-mocking tl;dr of their years-long labor of love/hate. The concept is reminiscent of #overlyhonestmethods, the brilliant hashtag game that swept science-Twitter earlier this year. If lolmythesis is a little less piercingly witty than its forebear, it’s also more accessible to non-academics. And it’s been flooded with submissions: Three weeks after it launched, the blog stands at 54 pages’ worth of academic one-liners.
They range from the silly to the depressing to the stultifying to the actually kind of interesting. A few were intriguing enough that I found myself wanting to click on them like headlines and read the full story. How often can you say that about real thesis titles? But mostly they're just funny, and a little sad. Here are a few of my favorites:
Rocks that are next to each other in Massachusetts now were also next to each other 400 million years ago.
- Geology, Amherst College
Jellyfish don’t like it when you acidify their tank.
- Marine Biology, St Andrews
Look at this zombie. Isn’t it racist and sexist? Yes, it is.
- English Literature, DePaul University
FML: All my feelings are constructed.
- Religion & Women and Gender Studies, Harvard
People get really bored listening to beeping for an hour, but they’ll do it when professors require experiment credit.
- Psychology, University of Chicago
Once there were some lost lobsters who were maybe a tiny bit different from some other lobsters, so I killed lots of their larvae to find out if they were actually a tiny bit different. Turns out I don’t know, so I have to do it again.
- Earth Systems, Stanford University
Just because there’s a bike lane on your street doesn’t mean your rent will be higher. Or lower. Bikes are statistically insignificant to your rent.
- Economics, Reed College
Online ads that claim you are the 100000th visitor are surprisingly effective.
- Computer Science, Harvard
I wanted to see if I could make a really really small circuit. I concluded that, yes, I can make a really really small circuit.
- Physics, Northwestern University
Mark Rothko was a huge asshole.
- Theatre, Dickinson College.
There was this Hittite king who might or might not have had a son, but definitely moved his seat of government from one place to another, and then his brother moved it back, and all 8 people who care are like “Why’d he do that? Tevs.”
- Cuneiform Studies, University of Chicago
I am going to write my thesis about how dicking around on the internet is important for art and intimacy and stuff, just as soon as I get off this tumblr.
- English and Gender Studies, University of Chicago
Update, Thursday, Jan. 2, 2013: The blog's creator is Angie Frankel, and her own website is here. Via email, Frankel told me the Tumblr has grown bigger than she had imagined, and it's now starting to draw more submissions from Ph.D. students in addition to undergrads. It has also led to a little more procrastination on her own thesis than she initially bargained for.
"I'm currently prepping for the MCAT and working on my thesis, and now moderating an unexpectedly popular blog," she said. "It certainly succeeded as a distraction, but I'm enjoying it every day, and the blog reminds me to laugh and keep everything in perspective."
Future Tense is a partnership of Slate, New America, and Arizona State University.
It’s a blight, a thoroughly tough plight, enough to make you want to fight … or laugh. There are so many ways to pronounce, or not pronounce, the English "gh," almost none of which have anything to do with the usual "g" or "h" sound. Why is it there to begin with?
Once upon a time, the "gh" did stand for a specific sound, one we don’t have in English today, except in interjections of disgust like blech. That back-of-the-throat fricative (written as /x/ in the International Phonetic Alphabet) is found in German, and if you look for the German counterpart of English "gh" words, you will often find the sound there: light ... licht, night ... nacht, eight ... acht, high ... hoch, neighbor ... nachbar, though ... doch.
So when you see a "gh," it usually means that it was pronounced with the blech sound in Old English, when our writing system was first developed. Early scribes had to adapt the Roman alphabet to English, and since Latin didn’t have the /x/ sound, they used "h" or a non-Roman character called a yogh (ȝ). Eventually, during the Middle English period, they settled on "gh."
By that time the pronunciation was already changing. The sound turned into /f/ or was dropped entirely. The Great Vowel Shift was underway and many parts of the language were in flux, but by the time the shift was complete, the printing press had stabilized the writing system, and the "gh," pointing back to an earlier English, was here to stay.
Not all examples of English "gh" can be traced back to the /x/ sound. The word-initial "gh" of ghost and ghoul came from the habits of Flemish typesetters. Words borrowed from Italian like spaghetti and ghetto just stuck with Italian spelling conventions.
And there are some words that show how "gh" took on a life of its own in English, words that came into the language long after Old English and never had a /x/ sound in them. Delight and sprightly were modified under the influence of light and right. Sleigh was made to look like weigh, perhaps to avoid looking like slay. Haughty was modeled on words like taught and aught, because, well, doesn’t that look more haughty than hawty? Like it or not, "aught" now stands for a specific pronunciation, with a rounded vowel, that really can't be spelled any other way (at least in dialects without the caught-cot merger). Is taught the same as tot or tawt? I think naught.