by Ted O’Neill
Last week Angelo wrote the definitive top ten of phrases that infuriate an Italian archaeologist, so I thought I’d give it a go – with one difference: perhaps we archaeologists, topographers and academics can be just as infuriating as we journalists. So, with one foot in each camp, here’s my attempt at a list of ten things that archaeologists say and journalists say. Judge for yourself which is worse.
- ‘Britain’s answer to Indiana Jones’ / ‘the Lara Croft of the Etruscan world’. (Journalism) Okay so this phrase is not so annoying to me as to other, more focussed archaeologists, historians and topographers. These film characters do represent a romantic and glamourous side of our profession after all, but used heavily, the comparisons can undeniably start to grind. Once when being compared with Indy in front of a Rai TV crew, I can’t deny that I supressed a glare, smiled broadly and made a bitter and vulgar quip which caused the whole crew to suspend their activity and much video tape to be wasted. I shan’t repeat the phrase in a family publication like Archeo Reporter. Think Indiana Jones can stick it up his… (“Indiana Jones me fa ‘na pippa”) but much much worse…
- ‘A fine scholar’. (Archaeology) I have heard this word used so many times by academics about each other. Self-deprecating in order to be elitist. I prefer Polański’s description: “A scholar and scientist who’s genius is unappreciated, his colleagues refer to him as ‘the nut’.”
- “Discovery.” (Journalism) In archaeology we need the press and we need them to sell our stories. So we big them up. We make stories sound significant. We bend the truth a little, but not too much, perhaps say that a site was ‘long ignored’ and has been ‘re-discovered’ so should we be surprised when journalists write about our site as if it’s never ever been seen before? After all when an actor or a singer is ‘discovered’ by an agent, it’s not as if the actor wasn’t training and performing like crazy and working on their image before that agent gave them their big break. But no. Please don’t say discovery, journalists, if the archaeologist isn’t saying it first. It can get us into trouble.
- “No. Lanciani says: ‘…’.” (Archaeology) Well actually Lanciani might have been a genius but he wasn’t always right. For example, lots of things printed in his 1893-1901 Forma Urbis Romae maps have been superseded and shown to be incorrect. There is sooo much hierarchical brown-nosing in Italian archaeology and deference to the big cheese archaeologist by anyone under 55 that it’s embarrassing. Have the courage to challenge them, people. Be brave and go rogue!
- “Wow!” “Awesome!” “Incredible”. (Journalism and Archaeology) Oh dear. We do not say these words in the U.K. One just doesn’t. But some media people have a limited vocabulary and somehow it has rubbed off on our dear Italian friends. Such a shame.
- “Academic Rigour.” (Archaeology) These words always imply the thought that somebody else lacks academic rigour and the speaker, on the other hand, applies plenty. It reveals extreme arrogance on the part of the speaker of course. Borderline personality disorder sometimes.
- “Beware Greeks bearing gifts.” (Journalism) Journalists go for cliches whenever possible, particularly when they have a deadline, but this is just unbearable, particularly for those of us who love Greek archaeology and want to read about pottery or epigraphy. Spike that story at once!
- “This research needs to be verified” (Archaeology) A common euphemism for “this research is a pile of drivel”. Was written about my work in a paper by an important professor last year. My imagination is still shifting through appropriate punishments for the author of that criticism. The punishment must fit the crime, but it’s going to be painful.
- “Rome wasn’t built in a day” / “All Roads lead to Rome”. (Journalism) Of course the second phrase has some (limited) sense if it’s being used as part of a paper on the consular roads, or even just one of the consular roads. But these ridiculous citations are sprinkled so liberally amongst journalistic articles in English press and broadcasts about Italian archaeology that they have become meaningless.
- And my top prize goes to: ‘You can feel free to disregard that idea.’ (Archaeology) What a put down. I was told this one over dinner in the home of some important archaeologists and it was used in a slightly misogynistic way that I really didn’t like. Ladies need to be valued – usually they have better ideas than us men, and all ideas need to be valued too both in journalism and archaeology.