Stupid Thesis Tricks

Today, I am excited because I get to use the word “stomping” in some of my peer-reviewed serious science business. I like the word “stomping”.

I also like the word “puddle” but I haven’t managed to work that one in yet. Nor “titillating” (though I am citing a paper on “vibro-agitation”, hur hur).

Anyway, since I am currently engaged in 24/7 thesis-related keyboard-smashing, perhaps you could give me some other challenge words to think about? The joy that I get from typing “impute” over and over and over is reaching a point of diminishing marginal utility.


  1. Coturnix wrote:

    My lab buddy and I always include the word “elusive” in our papers.

  2. Julian wrote:

    I very nearly mentioned zombies in a serious analytical paper once (for an actual relevant reason), but opted not to since it was my first ever paper for that professor and I wasn’t sure how it would go over. Now that I know her better, I think she would have been amused, but ah well.

    That professor has a list of mix-and-match Grad School Paper prefixes and suffixes on her door. It’s certainly more relevant to arts and humanities than to sciences, but I can snap a picture of it today and post it, to see if anything might be adaptable.

  3. J-Dog wrote:

    I’m not sure how you would work “obsequious” into a paper – perhaps in discussing a dissenting viewpoint? “Vapid” would also be good to use in this context, and you get double bonus points in using both words is describing the same paper.

  4. Rev Matt wrote:

    David Sedaris spoke on This American Life a few weeks back about a competition when he worked for a newspaper where he and a coworker struggled to get first unusual words and later awkward phrases into print. I believe the penultimate phrase was “perverse and poorly understood”.

  5. Benjamin Franz wrote:

    “propinquity” :)

  6. Maria Brumm wrote:

    I’ve noticed a tendency among certain Soviet-era authors to start their papers with an obsequious paean to the previous work of Russian scientists… but I don’t think I quite have the technical writing panache required to slip in snarky critiques of people’s rhetorical styles. Especially not when I am also being a bit snarky about their actual work.

    “Elusive” and “propinquity” are both pretty doable (it counts if I use “propinquitous”, right?).

  7. ScienceWoman wrote:

    I famously mis-typed subduction as seduction on page 3 of my dissertation. One of my committee members caught it at my defense.

    Not quite what you were going for, but good for a laugh in any case.

  8. Cherish wrote:

    Wow…you’re having way more fun with your thesis than I am with mine. I never even thought of using obscure terminology.


  9. Maria Brumm wrote:

    I just learned that the first person to talk about diapirs wanted to call them “tiphons”. OMG awesome.

  10. Josh in California wrote:

    One of my favorite uncommon words is “mutable”. It is, of course, the opposite of “immutable”, but it gets very little usage. (Software is my specialty, and I always like to remind people that everything in software is mutable.)

    If you’re looking for more fun or obscure stuff, try Wordie:

  11. Chris Rowan wrote:

    I just stuck the quote from this comic in the preamble to see if anyone would call me on it. No-one did.

  12. Kim wrote:

    I sub-titled one of my job talks “the hazards of dating under pressure.” But I didn’t consciously try to incorporate interesting words into the thesis. (Probably because I was writing the chapters as papers, and I knew there were hostile reviewers out there.)

  13. Maria Brumm wrote:

    Hmm. I’m also writing everything as papers, but I have so far had the impression that reviewers in my subfield are mostly collegial and constructive. There are, of course, issues with people who aren’t native English speakers. We’ll see if my advisor makes me take out “stomping” for the final revision.

    I know a guy who said in a footnote, buried somewhere in the bowels of his methods section, that he’d bake cookies or buy a case of beer for the first person who found the offer. No one ever took him up on it. I have been thinking about doing the same thing (not in the submitted-to-journals version natch), except I would offer a pie.

    It just now occurred to me that “titillation” is a good word for people’s attitude towards earthquake precursors. Off to write.

  14. Zuska wrote:

    The physicist David Mermin once mounted a months long and eventually successful campaign to get the word “boojums” accepted as a legitimate term for a physical phenomenon. You can read the details in his book, “Boojums All The Way Through“.

  15. Yanes wrote:


    My similar entertainment in this manly man oilfield is trying to introduce as many cute (largely made-up) terms as possible. So the gold-plated probes for one tool are “feetsies” and instead of working out the bugs on a new truck, we “embrace the gremlins.” Instead of good surface indication of a downhole gun firing, it’s the “warm fuzzies.” I get tickled to hear them used by burly oldtimers who’ve been working in the oilfield longer than I’ve been alive.

  16. David wrote:

    In writing an invited review (PDF) for the American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education back in 1995, I took the invitation as a chance for fun. I know of no other peer-reviewed pharmacy paper that uses the story of the Sex Pistols’ Sid Vicious as an example of the consequences of drug tolerance and the concepts of chronic agonist-mediated receptor desensitization and resensitization in the absence of agonist.

    The review still holds up pretty well but the only drawback is that my students now don’t know who Sid Vicious is.

  17. Andrew Ironwood wrote:

    >>Instead of good surface indication of a downhole gun firing, it’s the “warm fuzzies.”

  18. Lab Lemming wrote:

    Double credit if you slip “multitudinous” into the same sentence without having to first knock off a king (or department head).

  19. DrPongo wrote:

    For years, I’ve always tried to get “plethora” in wherever I can. I’m sure I managed to get at least three into my dissertation on orangutan behavior (but I still can’t bear to look at it to verify that assertion).

  20. Tamara wrote:

    I used “hadally”. It was extremely satisfying!

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