This article was written by Viraj Parikh (Batch of 2014).
The word ‘faff’ is a part of law school’s collective vocabulary. Exclusive to this community, it forms a part of our popular culture. Not only is it used to discredit specific statements (Gaganjyot’s use of the word discourse in his 19(1)(a) post was faff) but also to describe academic works (Ghanashyam’s project is faff) and even individuals (Nayan is faff(y)). It is important to note that the word faff is generally not used to describe activities. In such cases, the term scam is preferred. (Incorrect usage: Prem has an amazing CV on paper, but it’s faff!; correct usage: Prem has an amazing CV on paper, but it’s a scam!). Although the word forms an integral part of ‘law-school culture’, -if one exists at all- there has been no systematic attempt to define its exact meaning and scope till now. This is the first.
Definition: The Starting Point
I define faff as a term, which does not have a defined, ascertainable meaning, that is introduced by the speaker into an ‘idea-flow,’ either deliberately or unintentionally, and is meant to serve the purpose of ‘creating an illusion’ of the speaker having contributed meaningfully to the idea-flow in the mind of the listener.
Explanation of terms
Idea-flow: A communication between multiple individuals on a particular subject, via any medium (a mess table conversation between two second years on the feminist perspective of law school vandalism). It includes uni-directional flow (since Varun did not pay attention in the consult, his Evidence Law project is a uni-directional idea-flow between him and Prof. Kunal. Not the ideal situation, for somebody aiming to get a good grade) and multi-directional flows (any GBM).
Creating an illusion: The defining characteristic of faff is the fact that although it sounds meaningful, it actually is not. Hence, it allows the listener to, deliberately or unintentionally, prescribe a meaning to the term or not prescribe a meaning to the term, but presume it has value. (Viraj used the term semi-optimal rationality matrix in his speech against the first years, Basu realizing Viraj is losing by a margin of 1 decided to prescribe that matrix, along with a couple of arbitrary sentences thrown elsewhere in his speech, the meaning of an effective rebuttal to the first year’s primary argument to avoid a politically incorrect decision, Shukla presumed that it had the same meaning without realizing it had none, and gave the debate to Viraj. Viraj won in a 2-1 split, Aniruddha Basu dissent).
Completing the definition
Although this definition adequately covers the “discrediting statements” function that faff serves in our popular vocabulary, it does not explain the other two functions, namely, description of academic works and individuals.
To understand works being labeled as faff we must understand the concept of ‘idea-flow-faff-capacity’ or IFFC. A necessary assumption premised in the previous statement is that idea-flows have the capacity to sustain more than one faff. IFFC is the quantum of faff that a listener can identify and raise an objection to in an idea-flow. It is determined mainly on the basis of the attentiveness, prior knowledge and inquisitive nature of the listener coupled with his desire to arrive at a definite conclusion. These factors vary according to circumstances (Debaters have amazing IFFC while in debates, but they somehow presume that outside a debate, everybody else’s IFFC is really low).
As the quantum of faff (referred to as f.q.u) crosses the IFFC, the idea-flow is polluted beyond its critical threshold and as a whole, transforms into ‘faff’, i.e.:
In an idea-flow, where f.q.u. = n.
If , n > IFFC
Then, as a whole, idea-flow = faff.
(Wow, I can’t even remember how much faff Sounak had in his speech, in fact, it was faff).
Similarly, to understand individuals being labeled as faff, we must understand the concept of “pleading ignorance” (or P.E.E). When an individual acts as a speaker in an idea-flow and realizes that he no longer has any valid contribution to make to sustain or develop the flow, she faces a choice: she can either P.E.E. Or she can faff. Given this, an individual who is more likely to prefer faff over P.E.E becomes faff herself, if q.f.u introduced is greater than IFFC. To explain with an illustration,
In 100 idea-flows that X spoke in,
she faffed in 63,
In fact in 51, she introduced so much quantum of faff that the idea-flow itself became faff.
Therefore, X is faff(y).
(“All junkies are faff” said the alcoholic). An individual may be faff in a particular environment (“Only when they are stoned”, replied the smoker) but not in others (all of us are faff in Socio class, but only some dare to faff in History class). The important distinction between terms as faff or works as faff on one hand and individuals as faff(y) on the other is that although intention is irrelevant for the first two, a person cannot be faff unless he intentionally faffs (Rudro is not faff, he is just crazy. But Badri, he is faff).
And this is my definition of faff.
Utility of a working definition: Academic diarrhea or tangible benefit?
There is no doubt that all academic and quasi-academic literature has utility. Therefore, this proposed definition is beneficial simply as it adds great value to the discourse surrounding faff in law-school.
Further, this inquiry serves another function. It provides all listeners with a working definition of the term faff. The said definition can act as a framework which can be used to determine the legitimacy of its own usage. This allows the listener the ability to ascertain whether the use of the term faff itself was faff, automatically rendering that person faff, forever. (Shiney thinks everything Kapur says is faff, even when it’s not. What Faff! Shiney is just faff(y)!)
Even if, one were to adopt a higher threshold of utility, i.e.: only those things which have foreseeable, tangible, beneficial consequences have utility, I submit that this inquiry also fulfills this unreasonable -but somehow, still popular- standard. For, I propose that there exists a possibility that the word faff has another underutilized, yet logically consistent meaning.
The possibility of labeling communities as faff, must be explored and discussed. A community would acquire the character of faff, if the probability of a stranger with the IFFC of an average reasonable person(AvR) listening to an idea-flow emanating from a member of the community (the speaker) ascertaining that the idea-flow itself, is faff is more than 0.5. This probability is the community’s Collective Faff Capacity (or CFC).
If X (a person with IFFCAvR) engages in an
idea-flow with Yrandom (a randomly selected member of a community Y),
CFC = probability of q.f.u > IFFC
IF CFC > 0.5
Then Y is faff.
This is only meant to be a working definition of the term faff, and its corollaries. It provides enough tools for empirical research into one of the most important questions facing us today- Has law school become faff? And its variants: Was law school always faff? Is it not faff yet, but surely heading in that direction? Is it impervious from being faff?
In fact, I propose that such research can also be conducted for other communities: BJP? AAP? Politicians? Economists? Although such external application would be colored by ethical issues. Labeling a community with a term that is not a part of that community’s popular vocabulary would deprive its members of a true understanding of their own character (some meaning is always lost in translation). However, if the issue is tackled, this framework has great potential for application outside the law-school context.
After graduation, Viraj has dedicated his life to the deeper study of Faff in the professional sphere. He is currently employed as a consultant with McKinsey & Co. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.