The Season of Comptober

It's October 8, 1993. Do you know what a "comp" is?

Of course you do; this is Harvard. Maybe you're comping something yourself. After all, this is fall--season of the comp. Comptober.

So where are you, then? Have you made the first cut? Been invited to the first you-may-already-be-a-winner cocktail party for comp finalists? And if you're comping The Harvard Crimson, have you done your required "Tommy's run" yet? (Remember: that's two Sweet-n-Lows, two creams in Pat's coffee.)

There are many, many Harvardisms I have to explain to my friends at other schools: "toppings bar," "expos," "a capella concerts." And, "comping." Use this word, and conversation comes to a grinding halt. Here's a flashback from Thanksgiving break of my first year:

Me: I'm taking Shakespeare, a freshman seminar, Science B-15, and French 20a. And I'm comping the Crimson.


Friend: You're coughing the Crimson? What?

Me: No, comping.

Friend: Comping? What's that?

I didn't know then, and I don't know now.

But I've been thinking about the word "comp." It's a sinister word: it rhymes with "stomp" and "whomp." "Comper" sounds like my last name. During the news comp, I was called "Molly B. Comper" by some of the executives.

I thought it was because they liked me, because, as the managing editor told my parents during First-Year Parents' Weekend, "Molly is one of our rising stars!" As time passed, it became apparent that I wasn't one of their rising stars. As more time passed, it became apparent that they thought my name really was Molly B. Comper.

There's something else about that word, comp. What does it stand for? I've heard that it used to be short for "competition" but that sounded too scary. So someone, perhaps someone at Room 13, changed it to the gentler term, "competency." I'm not sure "competency" is a nicer word. It's certainly doesn't clarify anything. When you comp an extracurricular here, what kind of "competency" are you proving? It would depend on the extracurricular, of course. I have my suspicions:

WHRB: You are able to sing the lyrics to every song by Love Battery. If you're a rising star, you know the words to the lyrics of every ballad by the Hard Ons, as well.

The Advocate: You know people who create beautiful things. You can throw around the term "work in progress" with the best of 'em.

The Crimson: You are able to ask your sources for their middle initials and class years.