On “relatable”

I asked throughout Task 1 that we not to use the word “relatable.” Now it’s cropping up again in Task 4. Thanks to Logan V for asking about it, though, because it’s worth a reminder.

Here we go…
1) “Relatable” as a stand-alone adjective is a recent addition to the English language, and involves slapping together rules that apply to other words and mixing them (think “googling”). It’s true that language changes, and “relatable” is likely here to stay. However, like other words of this nature, I think it is inappropriate for academic writing.

2) “Relatable” doesn’t actually say anything except a personal opinion, so in that sense it goes along with “likeable,” or “interesting” as a throwaway word, also relatively useless in crafting an argument of any kind.

3). In literary discourse, we actually already have a way of talking about a how easy it is to relate to a particular character. We talk about that character being “a sympathetic character” (or being an “unsympathetic character”). By that we do not mean that the character has sympathy for others (or does not), but rather that the author has developed a character with the capacity to evoke sympathy. As a result, I prefer this term, not only because it’s already established as part of the discourse, but also because it’s a word that is making a claim about a character rather than simply stating a personal opinion.


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