A Collection of College Words and Customs

Posted on August 17, 2011 by Jack Kelly
Tags: readings

Before I left, I raided Project Gutenberg for interesting things to read. The first such book was Benjamin Homer Hall’s A Collection of College Words and Customs. As the tite suggests, it describes the language and customs of universities, mostly from the 1800s.

Some of the old college customs are really quite bizarre. Freshmen (first year) students could be sent on errands by just about anyone, including other, more senior, students. Some American states tried to form a militia from their university students. The students presented themselves for training in such a shoddy, ill-disciplined and chaotic state that the attempts were quickly abandonded.

Despite the serious environment that the colleges tried to maintain, irreverent pranks were frequently pulled by the student body. A number of colleges held funerals for Euclid’s book, after it had been taught and examined. The students would walk over the book (to go over it one final time) and it would then be set alight (to illuminate the material).

Some things never change, though. The entry for mark makes it quite clear that students who care more for marks than learning are not a recent phenomenon. Returning to the days of strict academic discipline and formal dress can’t fix that.

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