Word Of The Month: University
September is back-to-school month. In honor of all those students returning to the classroom, we present a selection of words and terms associated with higher education. Our word of the month is:
University, n., an institution of higher learning, the body of faculty and students of such an institution (c. 1300), from the Anglo-Norman université, ultimately from the Latin universus. In modern American usage, a university typically has both undergraduate and graduate departments and comprises several colleges.
The word university alone is hardly enough to capture a taste of college life. So here is a selection of terms associated with (mostly) American university life.
____ 101, n., at US universities, courses are often numbered with 101-199 being reserved for freshman courses, 201-299 for sophomore ones, and so on. So a course with the number 101 would be the easiest, or most basic course in a particular field. The numbers have passed into the general vocabulary, so that someone who has taken, for instance, Psych 101 has a basic or rudimentary knowledge of psychology.
All-nighter, n., an study session that lasts into the wee hours of the morning. As a general term for late-night work, the term dates to 1895. University usage dates to the 1960s.
Alma Mater, n., the university one attends or attended. From the Latin title for bounteous mother. Originally a title given to a goddess, especially Ceres, transferred to the university by 1803.
Alumnus, n., in American university usage, it has meant a graduate of a university since 1843. The original sense is a student or pupil at a school, one who has been entrusted into the care of the school, since 1645. From the Latin term for a foster child. The plural is alumni. The female Latin form is alumna, plural alumnae, although the female forms are often ignored in English nowadays, except by all-women’s institutions.
Bachelor’s Degree, n., the basic degree conferred upon students at a university. From the Latin baccalaria, a small parcel of land or a farm (bacca = cow). The original sense of bachelor was a young knight or landowner (1297). The university sense (1362) and the sense of an unmarried man (1386) both stem from this original sense. The modern university spelling of baccalaureate degree is the result of an old pun that has become a standard spelling. Bacca lauri means laurel berry, evoking images of laurel wreaths. Occasionally someone mistakes this pun for a true etymology.
Campus, n. and adj., the grounds of a college or university. From the Latin word meaning field. English language use began in 1774 at Princeton.
Co-ed, n. and adj., clipping of co-education and co-educational, the admission of both men and women (or boys and girls) to the same school or institution, a woman (or girl) who attends a school with men (boys). Co-education is US educational jargon from 1852. The clipping co-ed appears as early as 1886. Use of co-ed to denote a female student dates to 1893. The term has fallen out of use since the 1970s as the vast majority of universities admit both men and women and the need to highlight the co-educational nature has disappeared. The sense meaning a female student is considered by some to be sexist and demeaning.
College, n., an institution of higher learning. In modern American usage, a college not affiliated with a university typically has only undergraduate students. It is from the Old French collége, and ultimately from the Latin collēgium, or colleagueship, partnership. Also, an organized group of persons with prescribed functions and privileges, as in the Electoral College, the College of Cardinals, and the College of Surgeons. The general sense is from c. 1380, academic sense from c. 1379.
Curriculum, n., a course of study at a school, from the Latin word for course, career. The term has been in use at English universities since 1633. Curriculum Vitae, or C.V., literally the course of one’s life, is the academic term for a summary of one’s career accomplishments, a résumé. Extra-curricular is an adjective denoting anything having to do with college life that is not directly related to one’s course of study: sports, clubs, parties, etc.
Dean, n., a university official, ranking below the president. From the Middle English deen (1388), originally from the Latin decanum. The Latin term was a military title, the leader of ten men. Gradually, the meaning expanded to civil and ecclesiastical offices as well. Later (1577), dean was applied to resident fellows at Oxford and Cambridge appointed to maintain discipline and behavior among younger students. At other universities, the term was applied to heads of faculty or departments of study (1524).
Dormitory, n. and adj., originally a sleeping chamber, especially a room containing many beds where monks or students sleep (1485), in American usage a residence hall at a university or college (1865). From the Latin dormitorium.
Faculty, n. and adj., the professors and instructors of a university. From the Latin facultatem, or power, ability. The general sense of an ability or aptitude dates to 1490 in English. The sense of a department of learning at a university is older, dating to 1387 (and even earlier in Medieval Latin texts). The sense of the entire teaching staff of a school is more recent and American in origin, dating to 1767.
Fraternity, n., a social group of students (traditionally all male, although some now admit women) at an American university, usually with a name consisting of several Greek letters. The first fraternity was Phi Beta Kappa, established in 1777. (Phi Beta Kappa is no longer a social fraternity, having become an honorary association of scholars). In addition to sponsoring social activities, at many schools fraternities provide room and board to their members. From the Old French fraternité, or brotherhood.
Freshman, n. and adj., a first-year student, a newcomer. The word is a compound of fresh + man. The general sense is from c. 1550, the academic sense from 1596.
Gaudeamus, n., a social gathering of students, a party. From 1823, now archaic. From the first line of student’s drinking song in modern Latin: Gaudeamus igitur, juvenes dum sumus (Then let us be merry while we are young).
Greek, n. and adj., member of a fraternity, pertaining to the fraternity system. The term Greek-letter society dates to 1888. The clipped form Greek appears in 1934. From the Greek letters used in the names of American fraternities. Girls and Greeks is a term used to denote a fraternity party that is open to women and members of other fraternities (reciprocity), but closed to men who are not fraternity members (G.D.I.s or God-Damned Independents, sometimes Gamma Delta Iotas).
Ivy League, n. and adj., athletic association of Northeast US universities consisting of Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Harvard, University of Pennsylvania, Princeton, and Yale. Originally an unofficial sportswriter’s term (1937) for the Old Ten association, the league was formalized in 1954. Originally, the US Military and Naval Academies were considered part of the Ivy League, but they dropped out of the Old Ten association in 1940 and never joined the formal Ivy League association. The name is from the association with Ivy-covered walls at these venerable institutions. As an adjective, it carries the connotation of old and prestigious schools, among the best in the nation.
Junior, n. and adj., a third-year student at an American college or university. Originally, junior sophister. From the sense of junior = lesser, or lower rank. Since 1766.
Liberal Arts, n., fields of study directed toward general intellectual attainment rather than technical or professional training. From 1387. So called because they are the proper studies for a free or gentleman.
Midshipman, n., a naval academy cadet. Originally it was the lowest ranking naval officer, one in training and who has yet to receive his commission (1626). From amidships + man, their place of duty on deck.
Plebe, n. and adj., a freshman cadet at the US Military Academy or other military schools. It is a clipping of plebeian or commoner. From 1833.
Professor, n., a senior instructor at a university, particularly one who holds an endowed chair. From the Latin professor, one who professes or speaks. Originally one who professes membership in a religious order, it has been used in the university sense since 1380.
Provost, n., the head or dean of the faculty at a university or college (1442). From the Old English profost (c. 961), originally from the Latin praepostitus. The original sense is the head of a religious chapter or community, later transferred to academic use.
Quad, n., clipping of quadrangle, originating at Oxford (1820). A quadrangle is a square or rectangular courtyard surrounded by a building or buildings (1593).
R.O.T.C., abbrev., often pronounced rot-see, Reserve Officer’s Training Corps. A program of military instruction offered at US universities to train officers for military service. Originally a required course of instruction at many institutions, it is now voluntary. Many R.O.T.C. students receive scholarships, with the government paying all or part of tuition in return for a guarantee of several years of military service.
Rush, n. and adj., period during which bids to join a fraternity or sorority are extended to candidates, an adjective describing social activities related to such recruitment, as in rush party. Since 1899. From the rugby and American football term for charging the line in concert.
S.A.T., abbrev., Scholastic Aptitude Test, also known as the College Boards. It is a standardized test taken by American high school students used by universities as a factor in making admission decisions. The S.A.T. consists of two parts, verbal and mathematical, and each is scored on a scale of 200-800. Scores are commonly expressed as a combined score ranging from 400-1600.
Sabbatical, adj. and n., a period (usually a semester or a year) during which a professor has no teaching duties and may pursue research or other work, originally not granted more often than once every seven years; originally US (1886). Sabbatical has an older sense, as an adjective relating to the Jewish Sabbath. The term sabbatical year (1599) refers to Mosaic law that declares that all slaves must be freed and debts forgiven every seven years. The educational sense focused on the seven year requirement, hence the term, although the imagery of being released from the slavery of teaching classes was probably appealing as well.
Semester, n., an academic period, usually half the school year. From the German semester, which in turn is from the Latin semestris (six month period). In English usage since 1827.
Senior, n. and adj., a fourth-year student at US college or university, a student who is not a freshman at a British one. In academic use since 1651. Originally adjectival in use, as in senior fellow or senior sophister.
Sophomore, n. and adj., a second-year student, now chiefly US in usage. From sophism + -or, one who studies or engages in sophism. Dates to 1688.
Sorority, n., a social group of female students at an American university, usually with a name consisting of several Greek letters. Sororities have existed at American universities since c. 1900. The term is either from the Medieval Latin sororitas or from the Latin soror (sister) + -ity, in imitation of fraternity. The word has been used to denote female religious orders and groups since 1532.
Tenure, n., guaranteed right of employment granted to senior faculty, intended as a means of encouraging academic freedom. Use in the educational sense is American in origin (1896). From the Latin, via Old French, tenere, meaning to hold. Use as a legal term to denote the right to hold land dates to the 15th century.
Townie, n. and adj., a resident of a college town who is not associated with the school. Townie or towney is predominantly a US usage (1852), but town has been used at Oxford and Cambridge as a term for the local communities as distinct from the universities since c. 1647. The phrase town and gown dates to 1853.
Tuition, n., US clipping of tuition fee (1828). Fee paid by students in return for instruction at a university. Originally from the Norman French tuycioun, from the Latin tuitio, or guard. Tuition has had the sense of teaching or instruction since 1582. Cf. tutor.
Varsity, adj. and n., an abbreviation of university. In the US, use is restricted to sports and sports teams, with the varsity team denoting the one that represents the school, the first-string. Since 1846; 1891 for the sports sense.
Copyright 1997-2015, by David Wilton