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The History of Harvard's Commencement, Explained

Students Rename Traditional Courses

By Robert E. Smith

Harvard students through the years have shown a unanimous tendency to abbreviate just about every term they use in their four-year careers. The result of this phenomenon is the undergraduate collection of nicknames for favorite courses in the curriculum.

In fact many of the nicknames are now standard references for courses--house-hold words, if you will: "Mint Juleps" for History 165, Paul Buck's History of the South; "Ren and Ref" for History 130, Myron Gilmore's The Age of the Renaissance and Reformation; "Boats" for History 163, Maritime and Naval History with Robert Albion; "Rice Paddies" for Social Sciences 111, The History of Far Eastern Civilization; and "Chink Think" for Humanities 112, Classics of the Far East.

The Department of Architectural Sciences claims most of the nicknames: Arch Sci 20-21, Visual Composition, "Chaos and Confusion"; Arch Sci 105, The Development of Landscape Architecture, "Lawnmowers and Hedge Cutters"; Arch Sci 110, Introduction to Urban Planning, "Huts and Ruts"; and Arch Sci 124, Introduction to Design in the Visual Arts, "Spots and Dots" (a name often used for Fine Arts 171, Twentieth Century Painting).

Social Relations accounts for a large share: Soc Rel 184, Social Psychology of Crime, "Cops and Robbers"; Soc Rel 182, The Abnormal Personality, "Sluts and Nuts"; Soc Rel 131, Psychological and Social Aspects of Medicine, "Bedside Manner"; and Soc Rel 120, The Interpretation of Interpersonal Behavior, "Hostility."

The subject matter of courses is not always the basis for students' nicknames. The renowned Chem 20 is known affectionately as "Feisers' Folly"; the show-manship of Eugene Rochow has won the nomenclature "Black Magic" for his Chem 1, also known as "Kiddie Chem"; Fine Arts 13 (MWF at 12) and occasionally Philosophy 75 (TuTh at 12), are called "Darkness at Noon."

Among the single-word nicknames, less common in Harvard lore and legend, are "Mousetraps" for Engineering 274b, Sanitary Parasitology including rodents and rodent controls; "Stars" for Nat Sci 9 on Astronomy; "Rocks" for Nat Sci 10 on Geology; "Gladiators" for History 109, History of the Roman Empire; and "Wheels" occasionally heard for Physics 1.

In addition, George Wald's two-year-old Nat Sci 5, The Nature of Living Things, has been termed "Baby Bio" by its devotees. One of the best known nicknames was "Wagon Wheels" for Frederick Merk's now-defunct course on the History of the Westward Movement. Outsiders sometimes called it "Cowboys and Indians."

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