Academic clichés, part 1: Janus-faced

Academics use a very narrow range of metaphors. One of the most clichéd is ‘Janus-faced’. Janus was a Roman god who looked to the past and the future, and academics often use ‘Janus-faced’ for anything which points in different directions. You can see hundreds of examples on this Google Scholar link, and this one.

It’s a neat enough metaphor, and it serves its purpose: when you read it, you know what the author is saying.

But aside from being very hackneyed, it’s a pretty empty claim, because in one way or another, most things point in different directions. Politicians sometimes listen to citizens and sometimes ignore citizens. Janus-faced! Great art can make deep points, but it can also be nice to look at. Janus-faced! Cars can help us get somewhere quickly, but they can also slow us down if we get stuck in traffic. Janus-faced! Janus-faced!  Janus-faced!

So many things point in different direction that I could have got ‘Janus-faced’ into the title of every article and book chapter I have written. For example, my paper ‘Hobbes on Corruption’ could have been called ‘Hobbes and the Janus Face of Corruption’, arguing that for Hobbes, corruption can benefit people in the short-term but not in the long-term. I’d bet that most people in most academic departments could rewrite most of their titles similarly.

Please submit your own suggestion for rewritten titles below!

Here are a few titles to get you started:

Dr Seuss, The Janus-Faced Cat in the Janus-Faced Hat.

James Watson, The Janus-Faced Helix.

Charlotte Bronte, Janus-Faced Eyre.

Robert Louis Stevenson, The Janus Face of Dr Jekyll.

Joseph Heller, Janus-Faced Situations.

Charles Dickens, A Janus-Faced Tale of One City.

Part 2 (here) shows the emptiness of this cliché by rewriting every one of my articles and book chapters with ‘Janus-faced’ in the title.

Leave a comment


  1. Anonymous

     /  June 4, 2013

    Leo Tolstoy, Janus-Faced Peace

    Pierre Choderlos De Laclos, Janus-Faced Liaisons

    Harry Potter and the Janus-Faced Blood Prince

  1. The return of the Janus-faced cliché | BlauBlog

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