Thursday 29 March 2012

Touchstone Thursday: Philip Rahtz's 'How Likely Is Likely?'

By all accounts Philip Rahtz (1921-2011) was venerated as a human being and as a first-rate excavator. Based on this tongue-in-cheek probe of circumlocution in the literature [what have elsewhere been called 'bullshit qualifiers'], I have to infer that he was also a straight shooter when it came time to present his own inferences from the materials he recovered.
     So, he begins this note in Antiquity by recognizing the word-smithery that is characteristic of so many archaeology publications, and proposes a quantifiable scale by means of which an author can signal to the reader just how secure an inference is.   
Antiquity 49:59-61, 1975
However, Rahtz despairs that this would find widespread acceptance, given that the very people who are likely to use waffle words to present their inferences are unlikely to report the certitude of their interpretations honestly, even if given the opportunity to quantify them.
     So, he offers an glossary-style approach, and bequeathed to all who came after these hilarious paraphrases of commonly used expressions.
Antiquity 49:59-61, 1975
But wait! There's more! Even better. He can't forbear a similar glossary for the following eclectic aggregation of equally oft-heard phrases. I still can't read these without laughing out loud [er...LOLing].
Antiquity 49:59-61, 1975
I don't care what time or place you specialize in. You'll be able to appreciate Rahtz's brief candle raised in a heroic but inevitably futile effort to buck the trending wind of archaeological discourse [i.e hot air].


  1. 'No right-thinking scholar can doubt' that this is a great piece. Thanks for posting on it.

  2. It was my pleasure, Sir. As Eeyore was fond of saying, "Thank you for noticing."

  3. So sweet. Thanks for pointing me to this one. I live in a writing world where I have co-authors diligently correcting me from "the evidence indicates" to "the evidence suggests" since the former is too strong. It's the difference between saying that things sort of point in a direction vs. I'm shrugging my shoulders, don't jump on me for saying this.


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