I hear this phrase time and time again, mostly from very senior professors:

"Do you know the new book by [person]."
"Yes. He was a student of [famous guy]".

Before anyone asks, it's mostly male individuals in the discussion.

What is the social function of that phrase? That phrase gets mentioned almost immediately and unprompted. I guess it shows the importance of academic pedigree.

  • 3
    In this case, it has nothing to do with gender, although I confess I don't know which interlocutor or person under discussion you are saying are mostly male. Dec 28, 2021 at 15:02

2 Answers 2


There is sometimes some information communicated by this.

A scholar's research interests and general approach to the topics they work on can be quite difficult to describe succinctly. If it's possible to relate them to the interests and approach of some well-known scholar, this would be a good way to communicate this information briefly.

If the author is a relatively junior scholar likely still to share interests and approach with their advisor, this is useful. This frequently happens in fields where research is frequently communicated by books, where it's common for a person's PhD dissertation to be revised and published as a monograph. If the author is a more senior scholar, the other answer applies.

  • That manner of transmitting information never occurred to me. Thank you for this insight.
    – Ambicion
    Dec 29, 2021 at 16:13

It means "What a stroke of luck: I've thought of something vaguely apposite to say! I'd better say it quick before I get a reputation as the uncommunicative, socially awkward one."

  • 12
    Yep. Nailed it.
    – Buffy
    Dec 27, 2021 at 13:51
  • 5
    There can also be a "By the way, I happen to know [famous guy]" aspect to the statement. Dec 27, 2021 at 16:13
  • 14
    apposite - "1. Strikingly appropriate or relevant; well suited to the circumstance or in relation to something." Dec 28, 2021 at 0:49
  • @PeterMortensen I picked it up from Douglas Adams: at one point, Arthur Dent 'said nothing apposite, or indeed coherent'. Dec 28, 2021 at 11:14

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