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Speculum (because it’s almost Friday [in Australia])

31 January, 2008

At Macquarie University, where the popular perception amongst the older generation is that student activism is at an all-time low, there was a bit of excitement when we heard that a student publication would be launched. We all fancied it would be the start of a new era of student extracurricular activity.

Well, today I saw the first issue. Jovan showed me his copy. It’s a glossy magazine. “It’s called Speculum,” Jovan told me. My jaw dropped. Jovan said, “Isn’t that…?”

I finished his sentence: “…A tool used in vaginal and anal examinations?”

The psychology guy next door said, “Does that mean that we are a bodily cavity to examine?”

Much hilarity and bad punning ensued.

Now, what, you might ask, does that have to do with applied anthropology? Umm… Well, there is a fine academic tradition of deconstructing the gynecological exam. Consider “Dramaturgical Desexualization: The Sociology of the Vaginal Examination” (1971) by James M. Henslin and Mae A. Biggs, which analyzed the ritual steps taken and role playing involved as a woman prepares for a gynecological exam, in which, as they argued, she was turned from person into pelvis in order to deal with “the problematics of genital exposure” in a nonsexual context. See also “Public Privates: Performing Gynecology from Both Ends of the Speculum,” by Terri Kapsalis.

No, really, I’m just grasping at straws here. I just wanted to have an excuse to share with all of you the funny name of the new student publication at Macquarie. But hey, David, Cassie, Ben, Ben, and Emiko, bravo for getting it off the ground, even if I have no idea how you chose the name.

PS Let me preempt clever commentators by saying that yes I know that speculum means “mirror” in Latin, thanks.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. 31 January, 2008 11:12 pm

    Funny how these words have such different associations in different countries with Latin traditions. For me, “Speculum” has a quaintly medieval aura, as if out of Umberto Eco. There used to be all kinds of theological as well as botanical “specula.”

    This reminds me of a major trauma I sustained when I just arrived in Princeton in 1991 to start my graduate study at Rutgers. There was this mathematician at the Institute for Advanced Study, Vladimir Rokhlin, a professor from Yale. We talked in Russian, and Rokhlin claimed (I don’t know in what context) that the word “douche” (which in Russian, like in French, means shower) was in English reserved for vaginal ablutions. I did not believe this, at which Rokhlin (though he was sober) attacked me with the words “I am going to break your legs”. He had to be restrained by the host, a Princeton professor. I am still ashamed I didn’t fight (though, of course, I was only 18). Mathematicians tend to be mad, but was Rokhlin right? Tell me, ye Americans.

  2. 31 January, 2008 11:35 pm

    Ah, here is what I was thinking about: “Dei omnis creatura quasi liber et scriptura nobis est et speculum.” Is this right, Greg?

  3. 1 February, 2008 7:47 am

    Oh, Ali, you made me laugh and laugh and laugh. Ashamed that you didn’t fight over the definition of the word “douche”? Yes, in American English at least, it is only reserved for, as you so delicately put it, “vaginal ablutions.” High school Americans, when they learn that “douche” is shower in French, snigger and giggle to no end. The phrases “douche” and “douche-bag” are also derogatory epithets. See

  4. 1 February, 2008 8:56 am

    Hmmm, I think there might possibly be some awareness of the many permutations of ‘speculum’ on the part of the editors of this auspicious new publication. In her first editorial, Cass Grant suggests that the magazine will “poke around in the odd nooks and crannies of university life”, and will be “probing at [the university] any which way we can”. There is also a reference to first year students as “ducklings”, which is presumably evoking another definition of ‘speculum’: “a glossy coloured patch on the wings of some birds, especially certain ducks” (Chambers).

    So the name is probably an attempt to be both clever and funny. All it wants me to do though is squirm in my seat.

  5. 2 February, 2008 5:54 pm

    Hi Lisa and Jovan,

    I’m glad you’ve already picked up a copy of our mag. We agree that student participation at Macq seems to be at an all-time low, and we are actively trying to do our bit to reverse this trend with the new publication. Jovan, I’m sorry to hear the name makes you squirm in your seat, but at least it managed to elicit some reaction – anything is better than the apathy that’s currently plaguing the campus.

    In response to your inquiry, after being elected towards the end of last year as the editors for the publication, we sent out an all-student email asking for name suggestions. We received quite a good response of over 100 submissions which ranged from banal to bizarre (see our next issue for some of the suggestions) and settled on Speculum as the best student suggestion, largely attracted by the term’s many meanings. We like the ambiguity and tension within the word – everyone understands it differently, and so far surprisingly few students have even been aware of the medical aspect. Finally, even if we’re only attempting to be funny and clever, the name does make us chuckle.

    Anyway, this is exactly the kind of discussion we want to include in our pages – it would be great if you guys could get in touch with us about the name or anything else interesting happening on or off campus. Our office is just opposite the Quarry food court and our email is mqspeculum AT gmail DOT com.

    Thanks a lot for the effort in finding a tenuous reason to include us in the blog. If it weren’t for the mention and my egotistical self-Googling I mightn’t have even known you guys existed. The site looks really interesting even to an anthropologically ignorant Media/Law student.

  6. Kegs permalink
    3 February, 2008 8:39 pm

    How bizarre… This is about the last place I expected to read something about the new publication.

    Just so you know it wasn’t all us, the editorial team chose the name from a list of more than 600 names all submitted by students near the end of last year. It took close to 4 weeks to choose, with much heated debate and flip flopping of opinions. Hopefully we have chosen something that will stick in the mind and we can create something worthy of being thought about.

    Kegs (editor #2)


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