In a formal academic writing (in the everyday sense), is it appropriate to use phrases such as "step out on" to titillate the reader?

Since I am not a native English speaker, and since I have not yet accurately catched the general range of humor in the US, I wonder if using such phrases would be instead considered as a disrespect?

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    If in doubt, leave it out – 410 gone Oct 12 '14 at 12:18
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    I don't get the joke. In what way is the phrase "step out on" humorous? – ff524 Oct 12 '14 at 17:38
  • Yep, and I'd better leave the not humorous humor out :) – Megadeth Oct 13 '14 at 0:03

Your first priority should be to convey your ideas to the reader. Given that I, and many others, have absolutely no idea what "step out on" means, I would suggest that you avoid the phrase. On the other hand, I think humour is occasionally acceptable, but it needs to be timeless humour.

  • Thanks. I guess for a person p to step out on the spouse of p is for p to cheat on the spouse of p. – Megadeth Oct 12 '14 at 12:58
  • Urban Dictionary: urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=step%20out – user2768 Oct 12 '14 at 13:03
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    Maybe the key point is not humor as such, but the issue that any idiomatic expressions specific to some locality or subculture should be avoided, and you should try to use only terms that are universally understood or explain them in the paper. British, American and Indian English all contain expressions that would be clearly understood in only one of those 3 locales - they should be avoided in academic publications. Same would apply for expressions that would be unknown by people of a older/younger generation and any slang of some subculture. – Peteris Oct 12 '14 at 18:49

There are many examples of humour in academic writing, both in journal articles and in textbooks. One of my favourite is a note on p. 33 of Gregory's Classical Mechanics (Cambridge University Press):

Be a hero. Obtain this formula yourself without looking at the text.


  1. Especially in a journal article, where the number of pages is limited, the piece of humour should anyway convey information which is relevant to the topic of interest.
  2. The piece of humour should not be rude or offensive and should be clearly understandable by the readers without looking up at dictionaries like Urban Dictionary. Many of the word usages reported in Urban Dictionary are local and not very widespread, but journal papers and textbooks are firstly reviewed and then read by people all over the world: How many people would properly understand your piece of humour?
  • Well, what I intended is to use a more conservative parlance to substitute a coarse one such as "cheat on". Would "cheat on" be dangerous, how do you think? – Megadeth Oct 12 '14 at 15:00
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    Without knowing the context, the complete sentence and what kind of text you're writing, I cannot judge. However, I'm quite sure that that piece of humour won't make your text any greater, but it can make it much worse, and I second EnergyNumbers' comment: if in doubt, leave it out. – Massimo Ortolano Oct 12 '14 at 15:22

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