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The proliferation of waffle

We all do it.

Verbal vagueness is a time-honored college tradition. It is the overworked student’s trusty standby in those seminar sessions when everyone except the teacher knows that no one did the reading. However, there’s such a thing as excessive equivocation, and too many students at Princeton are toeing the line.


What happened to our opinions? This is an institution dedicated to knowledge of all kinds, a flagship of revolutionary thinking. Where is the glut of radical ideas and controversial attitudes that should fill our precepts, study groups and dinner conversations?

They are present, but buried under a layer of meaningless verbal dressing with the power to defuse and dampen even the most incendiary remarks.

The phrase “I find it interesting,” for example, haunts humanities precepts. Again and again it is used to preface students’ interpretations of the weekly reading. The student who uses this fragment to segue into a comment about the reading material does not actually intend to convey that he or she is interested in the text. Interest is already implied by their decision to comment on the selection. “I found this interesting” is a self-defense mechanism against criticism; the statement that follows it acquires both a neutrality and an aura of personal investment. One’s classmates are highly unlikely to challenge such a statement, since the only way of doing so renders them hatefully obnoxious; no one has the cheek, or the disregard for their precept grade, to call out, “Actually, I find that incredibly boring.”

While it is useful in deflecting nasty precept peers from ripping apart one’s comments, the fatally neutralizing “it is interesting” inhibits healthy discussion. Some of the best conversations have elements of discord in them, and stimulating disagreements are undermined when everyone introduces their opinion by modifying it into an opinion about an opinion.

Students often indicate their interest at the beginning of a textual summary in order to give their statement the appearance of an original thought. What they are really saying is, “I would like to point out chapter five. In it, such-and-such happens.” Even if chapter five contains a relevant answer to the preceptor’s question, the student who expressed himself in this way would be expected to explain why “such-and-such” is noteworthy. Somehow, though, when the student exchanges “pointing out” for “finding interest,’” his statement becomes untouchable and the preceptor tends to take up the thread of their incomplete thought instead of prompting them to finish it themselves. This is a shame, since preceptors are in an ideal position to curb the vagueness that chokes exciting class discussions.

Of course there are times when you genuinely want to share a selection with the class just because it strikes your fancy. You honestly “find it interesting,” and have nothing else to add. The subject of interest is simply offered to peers as something that will engage their attention and hopefully evoke a more thoughtful response than your own. This is legitimate, but should not constitute more than 5 to 10 percent of your statements. The percentage is volunteered by a board member of TFBTBS (Tigers for Banning the Bull).


The abuse of “interesting” is paralleled by a campus-wide misapplication of “feelings.” For example, a student discussing women’s rights issues might say, “I feel like feminism isn’t relevant anymore.“To which the correct response is, “No, no. You ‘feel’ hungry. You posit, believe and/or state your misguided opinion about feminism.” If this is a good friend, take a picture of their facial expression. If not, now is an excellent time to run away, giggling madly.

The reference to feelings in subjects and conversations that have no use for them is yet another symptom of the campus-wide fear of verbal confrontation. Your emotions do not belong in a discussion about Virgil. The statement beginning, “I feel like the poet wanted to convince the reader about such-and-such” accomplishes two things. Your peers are less likely to contradict your opinion, since you carefully wrapped it in personal, non-aggressive verbiage. They are also much less likely to respect it.

A final example of exasperating waffling is, “it seems like,” often used to refer to subjects that do not seem but are whatever the fudging speaker is doing his or her best not to directly suggest. The variations on this phrase are manifold, as are those on “I find it interesting” and “I feel like.” Some people take interesting to a whole new level with “fascinating,” and those with too many feelings occasionally invert their favorite phrase into, “I get a sense that…” No matter what guise they come in, these tired prefaces are too often cop-outs.

English has more synonyms than any other language in the world. The possibilities of expression are endless. With an abundance of words and phrases to choose from, why select those which weaken and defocus your point? For the sake of conversation in and out of classes at Princeton, consider taking your interest and feelings out of the picture. They’re just fogging it up.

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Tehila Wenger is a freshman from Columbus, Ohio. She can be reached at