Scott McLemee recounts a "contemporary legend" (what used to be called an "urban legend") of academia -- a doctoral defense that turns out to be about nothing at all. And Scott asks if anyone can provide names or dates to prove this defense ever happened.
book/daddy cannot. But I can provide another contemporary legend from academia, a favorite of mine, and the question remains the same: Anyone know anything to corroborate this?
A 17th century English lit doctoral candidate has completed her dissertation on Samuel Pepys, the famous diarist. Early on in her studies (yes, the gender makes this seem sexist, but I'm just reporting the anecdote as I heard it), she moved away from the university because of something -- oh, let's say she had to live with her parents. So she completed her work by mail. This was not that uncommon 25 years ago, and probably even less so today with the internet.
At any rate, it's the day of her defense, she returns to the department and faces a jury of professors -- who quickly realize that in all this time, no one has explained that Pepys' name is pronounced "Peeps." But the professors are embarrassed as well, to have one of their Ph.D. candidates get this far and never to have spoken to one of them directly. So our plucky candidate has the unnerving experience of hearing her mentors nervously coo at her for several hours.
Everytime she says "Peppis," one of them would softly go ... "Peeps."
Now before we dismiss this as an obvious joke, and an implausible one at that, book/daddy must add this coda, which I promise is true: I related the above anecdote to a brand new English lit prof in Austin in the early '80s, and he expressed wonder. He hadn't realized that Pepys was pronounced like that.
No big deal, I said, lots of people don't. And besides, Pepys isn't really in your field (which happened to be 18th-century literature). But then a perfect example hit me: It's like all those other names of British writers with funny pronuncations, I said. You know, like William Cowper, right? The 18th-century poet whose name is pronounced Cooper.
Surprised silence. Ah, no, actually, he didn't know that, either.
THE HOWLING: Scott posted this over at Crooked Timber, and it has triggered a small tsunami of responses.
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