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The History of Harvard's Commencement, Explained

COLLEGE NOMENCLATURE.

NO WRITER ATTRIBUTED

THE most striking feature of college-life is its dialect. One unskilled in the student's phraseology hears a conversation carried on in which occur words apparently so distorted that he is unable to intelligently understand its purport, and at first is inclined to call it mere jargon. There is in most cases, however, a remarkable aptness of these words to their end, though many are not long-lived, and usually not more than two or three colleges at once use the same word to express the same thing.

What is here known as a "squirt" is called at other places a "rowl" or "rush." The analogy between the sudden ejection of water from a pipe and the quick and forcible expulsion of words from the mouth probably gave rise to this word, which so aptly expresses what it is intended to by sound merely. At some colleges a person of a religious turn of mind is variously denominated "evangelical," "long-ear," and "donkey." I confess myself as ignorant of the similarity which exists between these terms and that which they define as any from the ranks of the might be. While at Harvard "one of the b'hoys" means a jolly good fellow, the same thing is elsewhere denoted by "brick," "seed," and "varmint"; the latter word is in use at Cam-bridge, England. At Princeton College, if a student leaves town indebted to his shoemaker and others, he is said to "skunk them." I believe there is no corresponding expression in vogue here, perhaps from the very reason that such customs are not indulged in, though it is not best to be too inquisitive on that point. Hint to a collegian that he has stolen certain "ornaments" in his room, and he will resent it as an insult; accuse him of "ragging" them, and he will smile blandly,-the odium attached to the word "steal" is gone. In Germany, a student in the gymnasium is called a "frog," and in his first half-year after entering a university he is termed a "fox," which is equivalent to our "Freshman." Why he should be thus called is not easy to say, as he is not at this time supposed to be possessed of any of Reynard's characteristics, unless it may be his love for chicken. In the latter part of the last century the word "fishing" was exactly equivalent to "toadying."

I might extend this piece indefinitely by showing synonymous expressions for words now in use here, such as "nuts," equivalent to "scrub," "mossy heads" to "senior," "cad" to "snob," "busky" to "sprung," "suck" to "crib"; but enough has been given. Even the tutors and professors are not exempted from nicknames, which are supposed to be more appropriate than the ones with which they were christened. Nearly every man in college has some word given him by his classmates which fits him better than it would any one else, generally taking its origin from some real or imagined foible. If he inclines to excessive eating, he may be dubbed "knight of the carving-knife," and for short, "knight." Does he manifest a tendency for long calls and annoying affection for your cigarettes, his sobriquet will be "Fig"; if he persists, "the Fig." These epithets convey more meaning than is at first apparent; they are indications of certain traits in one's character, and just as they are agreeable or disagreeable a person can safely conclude that he, too, is so, especially in those things which they are intended to hit off.

I wish to mention one example of a college-coined word, originating here, which has attained a celebrity equal to that which the students of Cambridge, England, have given to "Hobson's choice," and that is the word "Yankee." It was in circulation here about 1713. According to Dr. William Gordon, Farmer Jonathan Hastings was a man from whom the students used to hire horses. He would use the expression, "A Yankee good horse," to denote an excellent good horse. The students gave him the name of Yankee Jon. Yankee became a by-word to denote a silly, awkward person, and being carried from college was thus circulated through the country, and was at length taken up and applied as a cant-word to New-Englanders in common, bearing with it a tinge of reproach, and has ultimately come to be used by foreigners in mentioning Americans when they wish to speak disparagingly of us. What word now in use among us will ever attain such a wide-spread fame?

SENEX.

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