We're not quite sure how it happened, but somehow a junior professor visiting our booth at the Modern Language Association meeting this week ended up telling us about a pickup line he'd used in graduate school:
He went to a costume party dressed as Jonathan Edwards, sauntered up to the woman he was after, and said, "I led the Great Awakening. Wouldn't it be great awakening next to me?" The line didn't work that night, but it got us thinking: What sort of lines might be used by and on scholars who parse words and phrases for a living? So off the Inside Higher Ed investigative team went to the receptions held by various caucuses and specialty groups at the MLA.
Some specialties are too specialized to have their own pickup lines. A French medievalist explained that French medievalists can't expect to find amour with a fellow French medievalist (at least not at campuses in the United States). And then there was the couple we met where the wife said, "we've been together since we started coming to these meetings so we wouldn't have pickup lines," and the husband -- after saying nothing for a bit too long -- then said, "Um, yes, that's right."
But there are actually plenty of lines in circulation among the wordsmiths and literary scholars of the association. Some of our favorites (from among those that are publishable without getting this Web site reported to the porn-blocking police) from among those people reporting hearing or using:
Mark Noonan, assistant professor of English at New York City Technical College, told us: "I was standing next to a lady, and she mentioned she was nervous about her orals.... I told her, 'When I'm nervous, I recite page 368 of Finnegan's Wake.' It's a blank page. She thought it was funny, and she felt better. I actually convinced her to go to a talk she wasn't going to. This just happened." And if that doesn't work, he suggests reciting "Day of Doom" by Michael Wigglesworth. "Those dark Puritan sermons work." (Who knew that early American religious history had so much currency?)
Marcie Bianco, a grad student in English at Rutgers, suggested that a good line might be: "Hey baby, is that your jargon?"
Vivian R. Pollak, an English professor at Washington University in St. Louis, nominated this line: "I like your looks, and I sing the body electric."
A professor of English and gender studies reminded us that professors don't just lust for one another, but for being recognized for their work. So the line that can be effective is "Aren't you the person who wrote that really important paper?" This professor, who didn't want to be named, said, "Of course, you're never that person. It's just to start a conversation. That's happened to me about six times."
Thora Brylowe, a grad student at Carnegie Mellon University, said she would endow a chair, the "T. Brylowe chair of absolute awesomeness," and that would be the ultimate chick magnet for whoever had that chair.
Also at the Gay, Lesbian, Queer Caucus party, a male graduate student was goaded by friends into telling his best pickup story, which is rather ironic, considering that his academic focus is literature (and hence words). “I just go and stand by someone and don’t say anything at all,” he said. “Sometimes it works out well.”
At the same party, an English professor remembered what she considered a huge pickup disaster from last year’s MLA conference. She recalled sitting at a café, deeply into a book (she couldn’t remember the name), when a German man came up to her and asked all about the book and then asked if she wanted to meet at a particular time. However, she was scheduled to be giving an MLA talk at the same time, so he asked if she could meet him at a hotel later that evening. “He was extremely wealthy,” she recalled. But when she met up with him, he immediately told her that he had a wife and kids, but wanted to “spend the weekend together doing whatever you want, whenever you want.” He explained to her that his wife is very diplomatic, while she explained that her “husband is very undiplomatic.” To date, she’s stayed in e-mail contact with him.
A poetry grad student from California, Laura Close, did -- what else -- but wax poetic about a class she was in once where a fellow student wrote a “nice poem” about an athletic event he attended where he fell in love with a beautiful woman. “His poem ended, “Do you want some nachos?’ and I remember it to this day,” she said. “It just made my heart kind of melt.” However, she added that she “probably wouldn’t” have dated him herself.
Upon being asked about MLA pickup lines, one graduate student explained, “I really haven’t felt any sexual energy at MLA. Everyone, sadly, is pretty focused on what they’re doing here.” Then she asked the reporter if the pickup line question was really a pickup line in itself.