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Gordon DesBrisay, History Faculty

Misused Terms

What are some commonly misused terms in History?

The word 'biased' is something that drives me a little bit nuts, if it's used as a shorthand for substantive analysis. If somebody says, "I don't like this piece; it's really biased." They might as well be commenting on the colour of the paper: "I didn't like this one. The paper's white." It's like saying, "I thought this paper was quite." Quite what? Why is it...What do you mean by biased? First of all, are you supposing that there is such a thing as a completely unbiased approach, [which is] kind of unlikely I think. Clearly, that's not what they mean. They mean that somebody has gone overboard in their view, presenting a loaded argument. Be more precise: "This article is heavily biased towards a nationalist perspective." And then you explain why that's evident and what the problem with that is. But biased as a stand alone judgement is completely empty. I couldn't help you on where to look them up, other than the Oxford English Dictionary, which is a fabulous source that's available online through our library. It's a fantastic thing.