Academics, when locking rhetorical horns, can toss off the most pointed barbs by deploying nothing more than an understated phrase, so it should come as no surprise that they are also prone to seeing ___________ where none exist.
By nature she was II
Explanation: This is a very tough SE question because of the way that the answer choices are arranged. An uncommon definition of “slight” is used and two words that could arguably both work on their own (conspiracies, rivalries) create meanings that are a little too different for comfort. Finally, to make things even more difficult, two matching words describe the context of the sentence but not the specific word that goes in the blank. (See full description below).
First off, the answers: In academic writing, a great insult can come from an understated phrase. In other words, it only takes a few, low-key words for an academic to insult someone. Therefore, it shouldn’t be surprising that academics are likely to see insults where none exist. [A] and [F] are similar to the word insult and are the two answers to this question.
[B] could work, but it doesn’t have a matching word. Be careful with “conspiracy”. By a stretch, “conspiracy” could work in the original sentence, but a “conspiracy” and a “rivalry” are two different things.
[C] and [E] are similar words but don’t fit the blank—though they do fit the general context. “Misperceptions” and “misinterpretations” result because academics are prone to seeing insults/slights/snubs where none exist. It wouldn’t make sense to say that misperceptions result because academics are prone to seeing misinterpretations where none exist. The misperception is that they are seeing insults where none exist.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: Help! I don't understand this entire sentence. What does it mean?
Most students will understand this sentence if they know the definitions of words like rhetorical, deploying, and barbs. (For future reference, looking up the words on something like wordnik.com is hugely helpful!)
- Academics, when locking rhetorical horns, = Academics, when debating (a rhetorical fight),
- can toss off the most pointed barbs = can deploy the harshest insults
- by deploying nothing more than an understated phrase = by using an understated phrase
- so it should come as no surprise that they are also prone to seeing slights where none exist = so it is not surprising that they tend to see insults where there actually are none.
Putting the simple version together, then, we have:
- Academics, when debating, can say the harshest insults by using an understated phrase, so it is not surprising that they tend to see insults where there are none.
Essentially, this sentence is stating that when academics, like professors, argue with one another, they do not yell insults at each other. Instead, they respond with subtle statements. The statements are so subtle, it is hard to tell that the professor is even arguing back. Because professors argue this way, they sometimes mistake any subtle statement as an insult even when there is not an insult there.
Q: Can't "toss off" be an idiom meaning "to ignore"?
Yes, "toss off" as an idiom has several meanings, including "to ignore". However, if we use that particular meaning, the sentence as a whole doesn't make sense with any of the answer choices. Thus, we'd need to consider a different meaning. And in this sentence, "toss off" is being used in a more literal way: to throw or to fling. In other words, they can throw insults at one another by using nothing more than an understated phrase.
Watch the lessons below for more detailed explanations of the concepts tested in this question. And don't worry, you'll be able to return to this answer from the lesson page.