A few years ago I was speaking with a male friend about a woman I dislike (not least because, as a prospective graduate student, she repaid her host--one of my oldest and dearest friends--by sleeping with that host's live-in boyfriend). I had to acknowledge that the woman was smart, but I couldn't resist the observation that her career probably wasn't hurt by the fact that she was hot, too.
"Um," said my friend. "That's not hot."
"Come on!" I said. "She's skinny; she's blonde; she turns out well. Hot."
My friend replied that she was bony and pallid and ferret-faced.
I stared at him for a minute. "You're really trying to tell me she's not hot."
"God no," he said. "Except. . . for academia? Probably that is hot."
And so, inspired by Wonkette's similar distinction ("famous for D.C." and "famous for famous"), a phrase was born. Hot for academia.
In normal usage, the phrase is intended to dismiss someone or damn with faint praise; after all, when it comes to academic hotness or the hotness of academics, the bar is pretty low. But I sometimes use the phrase at least semi-seriously, as a way of acknowledging that there might be things that count more towards hotness in our world than just what the culture at large identifies as attractive.
Think for a minute about some of the entirely unhot individuals with high chili pepper ratings on ratemyprofessors.com. Now, I don't place a lot of faith in the tastes of undergraduate women--who have a tendency to be charmed by those who are funny, young, and in positions of authority (and who I think are disproportionately responsible for those otherwise mystifying peppers)--but there's a point there. The enthusiastic, the funny, the devastatingly smart can be hot. So can the stylish, the outrageous, and sometimes even the imperious and demanding.
And I don't know about you, but I like living in a world where that's true.