Bombasity

I am unable to confirm whether bombasity is an actual word. It’s not in the dictionary proper, but a Google search yields 986 hits so I trust it will eventually become a part of our vernacular, because Google is knowledge. I do know that bombasity has very little to do with Shaggy (for the Mr. Bean fans) or the aeroplaneblonde or Risseldy Rosseldy (although they’re all pretty cool in their own right). In the context of higher ed, bombasity is defined in the AVR (an authoritative version of reality) as emphatically calling lots of smart people stupid while interjecting on overly simplistic golden bullet solution to an increasingly complex phenomenon.

Yesterday I sat through a presentation by a “big name” researcher in the education field. It wasn’t terrible and he had some interesting insights about how to improve education, but like many I’ve seen in his position, he ruined it with an extra helping of bombasity. That’s the problem with bombasity. You can say a lot of really helpful, illuminating things and still unnecessarily alienate your audience by feeling the need to exercise your bombasity muscle. What’s more, with bombastic claims, researchers put themselves in an all-or-nothing position that they end up having to support with less than transparent or straightforward evidence.

So what is it with academics who think they’ve cornered the market on truth while us peon researchers devote our lives to exercises in futility? I heard one top criminology researcher go so far as to characterize almost all other research in his field as “quackery.” This is undoubtedly a decent way to make a name for yourself (if your delivery is well-executed, as was his), but I guarantee that it gets lonely on top of Mt. Bombasity.

I do agree somewhat with one blogger‘s observation that, “surely most every person who has done something significant in the world — be it grandly humane or shockingly cruel, be it artistically provocative or technically innovative — must have significant ego and a healthy degree of bombast.” I wouldn’t go so far as to say that most every person of significance is bombastic, but our society certainly rewards megalomaniacal individualism and egotistical bombasity (e.g. Mr. Olberman and Mr. Limbaugh — to be balanced). That’s the rub, right? Many of the top 1% of the talent pool are divas; not just in higher ed, but society as a whole.

Now, I’m all for provocative stuff if it’s framed as such. What I mean is that there’s a huge difference between being a facilitator of critical thinking and implanting yourself as the last bastion of absolute truth in this fallen world.

 [Photo Credit: David Salafia http://www.flickr.com/photos/djs1021/]

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  • Bill Streifer

    Like you, I searched for the word “bombasity” on Google. In addition to the 986 hits you found, I found a 987th; yours. You defined bombasity as “an authoritative version of reality.” I was looking for a word to describe Kim Jong-un’s recent threat to fire a missile armed with a nuclear warhead at South Korea, Japan or a U.S. military base in the area. I would call that a pretty “authoritative reality.”

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