When it comes to high school, there are many things students look forward to: more freedom, more friends, and more parties. But what we think is going to be all fun and games is less about friendships and more about grade-deciding projects. Indeed, high school is very much filled with major essays and late night projects as it is under-aged drinking and teen pregnancy. So when you’ve stayed out late at that kegger with Bobby and you realize you have a six page midterm paper due the next day, what are you going to do?
Answer: Bullshit your essay.
So many times I have seen kids try their best on an essay; staying up all night and slaving away at their computer in order to make up their own book themes or original ideas. These kids are what we call heroes. And for those of us that have a social life and don’t want to spend 35 minutes searching for an underlying theme in Huckleberry Finn, we need to find a way to crank out a six page paper without actually, necessarily, working. So for those of you who hate typing and despise research, I give you my four easy tips to bullshitting an essay.
Tip #1: Never try to be creative/original.
The book Huckleberry Finn was published in 1884. That means that for over 120 years people have been analyzing and studying it; creating hundreds of thousands of themes and symbols. Use one. There is no use in trying to think up your own theme or un-thought-of symbol, because some hero probably thought of the same thing in 1930. Please, for the sake of saving yourself time and effort, use someone else’s theme. There are hundreds of them.Where do you find underlying themes and symbols already laid out and explained to you? Sparknotes.com. I have been using Sparknotes for years now, and it has never failed me yet. The website has all the major pieces of reading you will ever be assigned in school, and has a quick summary, analysis of each chapter, important quotes, themes, symbols, and character list; everything essential to writing a piece of paper without actually reading it.How do you utilize these tools without straight-up plagiarizing? In high school, it is less about not plagiarizing and more about not getting caught plagiarizing. And in order to not get caught, you have to know how teachers check for plagiarizing.
When a teacher thinks the work you handed in isn’t yours, they check it online. A teacher’s suspicious could be raised by vocabulary you don’t normally use, voice that doesn’t sound like yours, or the fact that you left the citation numbers from when you copy-and-pasted from Wikipedia. If a teacher’s red flag is raised, they will copy the distrustful sentence and paste it into Google. When a website about Malcom X comes up that reads the same verbatim as your Malcom X essay, you fail for being an idiot. To prevent triggering a teacher’s disbelief of an essay being yours, you want to paraphrase and reword whatever you are copying. Sticking with the Huck Finn book example, let’s see how you could re-word Sparknotes into your own bullshitted words.
Real Sparknote Text:
“Although Twain wrote the novel after slavery was abolished, he set it several decades earlier, when slavery was still a fact of life. But even by Twain’s time, things had not necessarily gotten much better for blacks in the South. In this light, we might read Twain’s depiction of slavery as an allegorical representation of the condition of blacks in the United States even after the abolition of slavery.”
“The book Huck Finn takes place when slavery was still legal, even though Mark Twain wrote it after the abolition of slavery. It was during these times that blacks still faced segregation. In writing the book, Twain seemed to depict slavery as a figurative illustration of how African-Americans suffered in America even after slavery ended.”
As you can see, the changed text below portrays the same message, only with different wording. I changed “allegorical representation” to “figurative illustration”; “blacks” to “African-Americans”; and even “the United States” to “America.” It was these simple changes that made the writing mine, and even though it—technically—still counts as plagiarizing, no one will ever find out.
Using someone else’s ideas isn’t cheating. There is recorded evidence that Martin Luther King Jr. plagiarized many of his speeches, and he led thousands to civil rights. What if teachers had checked his work on Google? Black people would still be sitting on the back of the bus.
Tip #2 Use Wikipedia as a bounce-off point.
Here’s a question: When someone asks you to do a report on John F Kennedy, where’s the first place you look? If you’re in high school your answer is most likely Wikipedia. The only problem is that all teachers forbid Wikipedia on the claim that any “Joe Somebody” can go onto it and edit the information on it. This is false on two accounts.
1. The information put on Wikipedia is analyzed by dozens of editors who check sources, follow up information, and generally prevent anything funny.
2. No dick-faced meathead would go on Wikipedia and put false information just for shits and giggles
"'John F. Kennedy was a closer for the San Diego Padres' MWAHAHAHA"
But it is because teachers don’t allow Wikipedia that it becomes such a reliable source. What Wikipedia is, in itself, is a pre-written essay, complete with cited sources, pictures, and interesting facts. All you have to do is piece together the sentences, reword them, and put your name at the top. Here’s how:
When writing an essay that needs cited sources, it is always difficult to find out what needs to be sourced and what doesn’t. Even worse, your teachers define things that need citing as “stuff people wouldn’t already know.” By this definition, we should have to cite our person’s birth date, place of birth, and how to spell our last name. I remember one of my friends had to make a childhood story book for his psych class based off of his memories and he was marked down for not citing his sources. What would he cite? His mind?
Luckily, whenever Wikipedia writes a sentence that needs sourcing, they do it for you, leaving no room for doubt. Also, they send you a link directly to the website/book/magazine they got it from. So all you have to do is click on the link, get the title of the book, or visit the website they looked at, and you can now cite the proper source. And if you’re citing a source, it’s not plagiarizing, right? You’re not copying Wikipedia, you’re using them as a bounce-off point to the real information.
Tip #3: Change your periods to size 14 font
I’m sure you’re thinking to yourself, “what the hell? Why would I want to do that? That’s not going to do anything.” This, my narrow-minded friend, is where you’re wrong.
First off, let me give you some small advice. When writing your essay, always write it single-spaced first, and then right before you finish double-space it. In high school, most essays are accepted double-spaced (some teachers even encourage it), which makes students immediately double space their work. This is a grave mistake, because it makes the essay seem much longer, whereas single-spacing your essay makes it seem like you’re writing half the pages. For example, if your teacher says you should write a six page paper, write a three page paper single-spaced, and then double-space it. I know that there’s really no difference, but the psychological aspect of it is much less demanding.
Next, if you feel that your essay is still too short, change the periods to 14 size font. All teachers have to same guidelines to prevent you from finding a loophole: “Size 14 Times New Roman font with one inch margins.” However, they never said how big the PERIODS have to be, and a size 14 period is the same size as a size 12 period, it only makes the spacing between the lines bigger.
How do you change only the size of the periods without tediously going through your entire paper? Pay attention. (This is for people using Microsoft Word, I don’t know what else there is)
After you’ve finished typing your essay, hit Ctrl+F, which is the “Find” key.
Next, hit the “Replace” tab
On the “Find what” type a period, and on the “Replace with” type another period. Then, hit the “More” button, and the “Format.” Scroll up to “Font”
On the far right there is a “Size” option. Scroll down to size 14 font, select it, and click OK. You should then it replacing normal periods with periods with size 14 periods.
Click “Replace All” and watch as your essay grows. This trick also works for commas, but I’ve always done it to periods.
WARNING: When you do this, make sure you do not email it to your teacher to print out. You’ll see that if you highlight a paragraph of your essay after changing period sizes, it does not give a font size on the upper bar, which could make some teacher’s curious. Print the essay and hand the hard copy in, just to be safe.
Tip #4 Unknown book? Make up quotations.
This year in my Race & Identity class, my teacher made me do a book report on Tony Hawk’s autobiography. Not only was I shocked that Tony Hawk knows how to write, but I felt disrespected that I was told to read a primitive book written at the fifth grade level. The book has 14 size font, pictures on every other page, and I remember my friend reading it in 7th grade. I’m a senior in high school; I should be (pretending) to read refined books.
Because my teacher assigned such a pathetic book, I didn’t read it. So when it came time for me to write my autobiography, I did all of the above steps. Unfortunately, Sparknotes doesn’t have a book quite as sophisticated as HAWK: Occupation: Skateboarder, so I went to Wikipedia. Using Wikipedia as a bounce off point, I was brought to this website, where I read the entire biography. Figuring that a biography must be similar to an autobiography, I copied the whole thing into my essay, but I reworded it to prevent getting caught plagiarizing:
The Website’s Words:
“. . . His career sport was losing popularity, and a worried Hawk considered getting a regular nine-to-five job, possibly in computers, since he was a self-proclaimed techno geek. “I did demos where I could count the spectators on two hands,” he recalled to Tim Layden of Sports Illustrated.
Instead, Hawk decided to throw himself into a new business venture. In 1990 he and fellow skateboarder Per Welinder launched Birdhouse Projects, a company to manufacture skateboards and skate accessories. In 1992 Birdhouse was followed by Blitz, which distributed other skateboard brands. Hawk mortgaged and eventually sold his home in order to finance his businesses. The rocky start-up proved to be too much of a strain on his family, however, and Tony and Cindy divorced. But just when it seemed that things could not get any worse, skateboarding once again came to the rescue.”
“Hawk said that he was worried the waning popularity of skateboarding would cost him is job, and reported even applying for a 9-to-5 job as a computer technician. But instead, he and Per Welinder, a fellow skateboarder, launched Birdhouse Projects. It was a manufacturing company of skateboards and skateboard brands. To finance his business, Hawk mortgaged his house. The strain of the difficult beginning became too much for his wife, and he and Cindy divorced in 1993. However, right when things looked grim for Tony, skateboarding saved his life once again.”
Aside from painfully-rewording the entire biography of Tony Hawk, my teacher also demanded that I quote his autobiography to prove the points that I needed. For those of you who don’t know, quoting a book is very difficult if you’ve never read it before. But, I also figured that my teacher hadn’t read such a pointless book either, and that she would be too busy correcting the other 25 essays to check my citations. As a result, I had mindless quotes to prove the perfect themes of my essay:
“Vert skaters, what Hawk is considered, are thought of in the skating world as boarders who sold out and preferred fame over personal expression. As Hawk stated in his book, “According to street skaters, vert skating is to skateboarding what flag football is to the NFL; all the fun without the cuts, scraps, or bruises.””
Believe it or not, Tony Hawk never compared vert skating to flag football. But in my edition of HAWK: Occupation: Skateboarder, he did. And, I “forgot” to include a page number, so unless my teacher wants to flip through the entire book, she’s going to have trouble disproving me.
If you are forced to do a book report on a book that your teacher has never or will never read, it is much better to make up fake quotes than scramble through endless text searching for one. However, most English teachers have read hundreds of books, so be forewarned that they might be able to recall certain pieces of literature.
High school is a very difficult time for teenagers. Their bodies are still maturing, they are constantly involved in drama, and they need to get their life sorted out before “Jessica and I aren’t BFFL’s anymore!” And during this time of confusion and disorder, they don’t need to be worried by futile midterm papers of essays. That is why I give you people the gift of bullshitting. Because I know that high school is about much more important things like, for example, teenage pregnancy.
"We live in an era of unprecedented bullshit production," observes Laura Penny, author of the forthcoming (and wittily titled) Your Call Is Important to Us: The Truth About Bullshit. But what is bullshit, exactly? By which I mean: What are its defining characteristics? What is its Platonic essence? How does bullshit differ from such precursors as humbug, poppycock, tommyrot, hooey, twaddle, balderdash, claptrap, palaver, hogwash, buncombe (or "bunk"), hokum, drivel, flapdoodle, bullpucky, and all the other pejoratives * favored by H.L. Mencken and his many imitators? The scholar who answers the question, "What is bullshit?" bids boldly to define the spirit of the present age.
Enter Harry G. Frankfurt. In the fall 1986 issue of Raritan, Frankfurt, a retired professor of philosophy at Princeton, took a whack at it in an essay titled "On Bullshit." Frankfurt reprinted the essay two years later in his book The Importance of What We Care About: Philosophical Essays. Last month he republished it a second time as a very small book. Frankfurt's conclusion, which I caught up with in its latest repackaging, is that bullshit is defined not so much by the end product as by the process by which it is created.
Eureka! Frankfurt's definition is one of those not-at-all-obvious insights that become blindingly obvious the moment they are expressed. Although Frankfurt doesn't point this out, it immediately occurred to me upon closing his book that the word "bullshit" is both noun and verb, and that this duality distinguishes bullshit not only from the aforementioned Menckenesque antecedents, but also from its contemporary near-relative, horseshit. It is possible to bullshit somebody, but it is not possible to poppycock, or to twaddle, or to horseshit anyone. When we speak of bullshit, then, we speak, implicitly, of the action that brought the bullshit into being: Somebody bullshitted. In this respect the word "bullshit" is identical to the word "lie," for when we speak of a lie we speak, implicitly, of the action that brought the lie into being: Somebody lied.
Is "bullshit," then, a synonym for "lie"? Not exactly. Frankfurt asks us to consider an anecdote told about Ludwig Wittgenstein wherein the great philosopher phones a friend named Fania Pascal who's just had her tonsils removed. How are you, Wittgenstein asks. Like a dog that's been run over, Pascal answers. Wittgenstein then replies testily, "You don't know what a dog that has been run over feels like." In effect, Frankfurt argues, Wittgenstein is suggesting that Pascal is spouting bullshit. (A more reasonable person, Frankfurt concedes, would reach the charitable conclusion that Wittgenstein's friend is merely expressing herself through the use of allusive or at worst hyperbolic language.) Wittgenstein's grumpy outburst seems so absurd that very possibly the real bullshit here is the anecdote itself. But Frankfurt asks us to assume, for the purposes of this discussion, that the anecdote is true and that Wittgenstein's objection is rational and sincere.
So: Wittgenstein thinks Pascal is bullshitting him. But why, Frankfurt asks,
does it strike [Wittgenstein] that way? It does so, I believe, because he perceives what Pascal says as being—roughly speaking, for now—unconnected to a concern with the truth. Her statement is not germane to the enterprise of describing reality. She does not even think she knows, except in the vaguest way, how a run-over dog feels. Her description of her own feeling is, accordingly, something that she is merely making up.
Is Pascal lying? No. She isn't trying to deceive Wittgenstein about how she really feels, and she isn't trying to deceive Wittgenstein about how a dog would feel if run over. Her error, Frankfurt concludes, isn't that she conducted a faulty inquiry into how a dog would feel if run over, but that she conducted no inquiry at all (in this case, because none is possible)."It is just this lack of connection to a concern with truth—this indifference to how things really are—that I regard as the essence of bullshit."
Frankfurt's definition is provocative because it allows for the little-recognized possibility that bullshit can be substantively true, and still be bullshit. Last summer, the Financial Times reported on evidence that the infamous war-justifying "16 words" in President Bush's 2003 State of the Union address ("The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa") may have been true after all. Previously, a consensus had dismissed the Bush administration's charge that Iraq had sought to buy yellowcake from Niger (implicit in Bush's use of the word "learned" rather than "concluded") as outright bullshit—a lie, even. Did the FT's stories mean that the 16 words might not be bullshit? No. They meant the 16 words might be true, but still didn't legitimize the shoddy White House research that had led to their inclusion in the speech. When those words were written into the speech, the president and his staff lacked the evidence needed to support them. They were bullshitting. The 16 words therefore remain bullshit, and will continue to remain bullshit even if the charge is eventually proved true.
More often, of course, bullshit is not true, in the same sense that a stopped clock is wrong 1,438 out of 1,440 minutes per day. Is bullshit as bad as a lie? Frankfurt thinks it's worse:
Both in lying and in telling the truth people are guided by their beliefs concerning the way things are. These guide them as they endeavor either to describe the world correctly or to describe it deceitfully. For this reason, telling lies does not tend to unfit a person for telling the truth in the same way that bullshitting tends to. ...The bullshitter ignores these demands altogether. He does not reject the authority of the truth, as the liar does, and oppose himself to it. He pays no attention to it at all. By virtue of this, bullshit is a greater enemy of the truth than lies are.
Bullshit, Frankfurt notes, is an inevitable byproduct of public life, "where people are frequently impelled—whether by their own propensities or by the demands of others—to speak extensively about matters of which they are to some degree ignorant." But politics is not a creation of the modern era; it's been around for centuries.
Why should bullshit be so prevalent now? The obvious answer is the communications revolution. Cable television and the Internet have created an unending demand for information, and there simply isn't enough truth to go around. So, we get bullshit instead. Indeed, there are some troubling signs that the consumer has come to prefer bullshit. In choosing guests to appear on cable news, bookers will almost always choose a glib ignoramus over an expert who can't talk in clipped sentences. In his underappreciated book Public Intellectuals: A Study of Decline, Richard Posner found a negative correlation between media mentions and scholarly citations for the 100 public intellectuals most mentioned in the media—and these 100 accounted for 67.5 percent of all media mentions!
The Bush administration is clearly more bullshit-heavy than its predecessors. Slate's founding editor, Michael Kinsley, put his finger on the Bush administration's particular style of lying three years ago:
If the truth was too precious to waste on politics for Bush I and a challenge to overcome for Clinton, for our current George Bush it is simply boring and uncool. Bush II administration lies are often so laughably obvious that you wonder why they bother. Until you realize: They haven't bothered.
But by Frankfurt's lights, what Bush does isn't lying at all. It's bullshitting. Whatever you choose to call it, Bush's indifference to the truth is indeed more troubling, in many ways, than what Frankfurt calls "lying" would be. Richard Nixon knew he was bombing Cambodia. Does George W. Bush have a clue that his Social Security arithmetic fails to add up? How can he know if he doesn't care?
Correction, March 4, 2005: An earlier version of this article mistakenly described these words as adjectives. In fact, they are nouns. Return to the corrected sentence.