I already knew this, I can’t say I didn’t, so why then do I feel disquiet at the notion of the ‘slush pile’? It’s not the fact of being in a queue or of waiting for an evaluation of suitability, those are regular experiences in my world. It isn’t even the element of subjectivity, the lack of control, or the length of time invested in the wait because these too are familiar in matters such as applications for research funding.
In both circumstances, there are rules to be followed; this many words or characters, this kind of remit, and that configuration of topicality and market. Most publishers give a time scale beyond which you are free to enquire if you have had no feedback. All funding streams do the same although feedback now is largely automatic. Many of these also have a filtering system which determines whether or not the study is ‘in scope’ so you know quite soon if your proposal will be going to the full selection panel.
So it isn’t uncertainty, the waiting, or the fact that you can’t submit the same thing anywhere else at the same time. It’s the terminology – ‘slush‘. Slush is the semi fluid detritus that encumbers progress, messes up your boots, and trails muck into your house. How on earth has it come to represent the hours of painstaking work put in by people who are rarely paid, and may not be paid even if hauled out of this freezing mash, and who send in their product in good faith?
In a world where language and meaning are critical and communication is the primary aim, what, exactly, is ‘slush’ meant to tell us? It doesn’t sound respectful, it does sound casual, contemptuous, dismissive and derogatory and I am at a loss to see how that can be right.
I have been organising a professional conference and invited submissions for oral presentations. When they came in, they went to a scrutiny panel where we decided which would be accepted and which not. They did not go into a slush pile. For me, it doesn’t matter how many submissions, entries, or pieces of flash fiction someone receives and has to review or how scrupulous that process is, the language of contempt should have no place. Change, when it is just one word, is cheap. I vote for a language of respect, I vote for change.