Glossary

The staff, students and academics of Oxford University have over the centuries created a large vocabulary of jargon; a mélange of archaic administrative terms, obscure abbreviations and student slang. Some of this jargon is college-specific: a good example is the number of different ways in which the heads of different colleges are described (variously President, Warden, Master, and Provost).  Some of the most commonly-used terms are listed alphabetically below.

 

 

Battels           

The fees paid by students for board and lodging.

 

Bedel             

An attendant to the Vice-chancellor on official occasions.

 

Blue              

The highest sporting achievement of the university given to members of certain sports clubs who compete in the annual Varsity match for their sport.

 

Bop

A social event organised by a College JCR (q.v.), generally occurring once every term. They are typically held in College Bars and involve loud music, dancing, alcohol, and sometimes fancy dress.

 

Bulldog           

A member of the university police - recently disbanded.

Caution money

A type of insurance payment against breakages or defaulting paid at the beginning of one’s time at college, and repaid on going down.

 

Censor            

A Christ Church term for the senior members of the academic staff who take on an administrative and disciplinary role for a limited period.

 

Class               

A category of an honours degree, in the sense of ‘first class’, etc.

 

Collections       

Informal, internal examinations to test a student’s progress.

 

College            

At Oxford and Cambridge, the colleges are independent institutions which provide teaching, and board and lodging.  The title of first college is fought over by University, Balliol, and Merton Colleges.  Among the most recent is Kellogg College which specialises in graduate courses for part-time mature students.

 

Come up         

To arrive at Oxford, either for the first time or at the beginning of each term.

 

Common Room

The Senior Common Room of each college is a type of club for the fellows and invited guests.  Most colleges also have a Junior Common Room (for undergraduates) and a Middle (or Graduate) Common Room for post-graduate students.

 

Congregation    

The legislative body of the university.

 

Convocation     

Until recently, Convocation was the collective name for all MAs.  Now all graduates of the university are members of Convocation.   It dates, along with Congregation, from the 13th century.

 

Cuppers          

Any inter-Collegiate competition for a prize, and not just sporting events (there are Drama Cuppers, for example).

Dean              

At all colleges but Christ Church the dean is the senior academic responsible for discipline.  The term is also used for the senior cleric in any Anglican cathedral and so, as Christ Church is both cathedral and college, the dean there is both the master of the college and the head of the cathedral.

 

Demy             

A scholar at Magdalen College (pronounced dem-EYE, like rely).

 

Don               

A university tutor.

Eights             

Also known as Summer Eights. The rowing races held during the summer for the title Head of the River.

 

Encaenia         

The ceremony in the Sheldonian Theatre in June at which honorary degrees are presented.

 

Exhibitioner     

An undergraduate in receipt of an exhibition, a prize awarded by various Colleges for merit and generally taking the form of a contribution towards the student's fees. The funds for exhibitions often come, or came originally, from endowments bequeathed to colleges specifically for this purpose. 

Faculty            

A university department administering the examination of each subject.

Gaudy             

A celebratory meal to bring together graduates by matriculation years on a fairly regular basis.

 

Go down         

To leave the university, either for the vacation or permanently.

 

Graces            

Occasionally a student could be let off certain academic exercises necessary for a degree.  There are also the graces said before and after meals which are often peculiar to an individual college.

 

Greats            

The final examination in the Oxford University Classics course. The term Greats is also used to refer to the Classics course as a whole; while this is fairly widely understood, the official name for Oxford's Classics course is Literae Humaniores (q.v.).

 

Head of House/College

There are a number of titles used by the heads of each college including ‘Rectors’, ‘Presidents’, ‘Principals’, ‘Provosts’, ‘Masters’, ‘Wardens’, and one ‘Dean’.

 

Hilary term      

Spring term, running from January to Easter. See also: Trinity term, Michaelmas term.

 

The House       

Christ Church, from its Latin title, Aedis Christi, House of God.

Incorporation   

If a student moves from Oxford, Cambridge, or Trinity College in Dublin to another of these three, his or her status is automatically confirmed at the new institution. This is known as incorporation.

JCR                

Junior Common Room.  A social club for students studying for an undergraduate qualification. Each College has its own JCR, which elects officers annually to represent the undergraduate body to the College authorities and take responsibility for matters such as student welfare and the organisation of bops (q.v.) and other social events. The term is also frequently used to refer to the College Bar.

Lit Hum

Abbreviation of Literae Humaniores, Oxford University's name for its Classics course. The course is also sometimes referred to as 'Greats', though technically this term refers only to the final exam of the course.

Manciple         

The manciple was originally the chief purchaser of food (except for beer, bread and butter) in a college.  The title is still used in some colleges for a senior member of staff involved in the catering; perhaps the domestic accountant or the Head Chef, for example.

 

Matriculation   

The ceremony which formally admits a student as a member of the university.  Particularly during the early modern period, and into the 19th century, matriculation did not always occur at the same time as admission to a college.  It was not uncommon for matriculation to take place some time before or after their admission to a college.  Neither did all students matriculate, although it was necessary to be a matriculated member of the University before one could take a degree.

 

Michaelmas term    

Winter term, running from October to Christmas. See also: Hilary term, Trinity term.

 

MCR              

Middle Common Room. As with JCR (q.v.), the term can refer to the social club of which all graduates of a College automatically become a member, the officers elected by that club, or the club's premises (more likely to be a simple social room than a working bar). Sometimes known as the GCR, or Graduate Common Room.

 

Mods              

Moderations.  The first public examinations sat by un undergraduate.  In some subjects these are known as Prelims.

 

 

Other Place, The

Cambridge University.

Oxford Union  

Not to be confused with the Students’ Union (which is officially known as Oxford University Students' Union, or OUSU), the Oxford Union Society was formed in 1825 out of the Oxford United Debating Society.  The Union has proved itself a training ground for political debate.  Presidents have included Lord Hailsham, Michael Foot, Edward Heath, Tony Benn, Peter Jay, Tariq Ali, Benazir Bhutto, and Boris Johnson.

Porter            

The lodge keepers in any Oxford college.  Supplier of useful information to all new arrivals and long-term residents alike, and usually in charge of the mail.

 

Postmaster       

A scholar at Merton College.

 

Prelims           

See Mods.

 

Proctor           

One of three disciplinary and administrative officers with jurisdiction across the University, elected annually in rotation by the colleges.

 

 

Responsions      

Originally an examination in Greek, Latin, Logic, and Geometry which had to be passed before a student could sit for a BA.  During the middle part of the 20th century, Responsions became, in effect, an entrance examination for Oxford.  It was abolished in 1960. 

 

Rusticated        

Temporarily expelled from the university.

Scholar            

An undergraduate in receipt of a scholarship towards his or her fees.

 

Schools           

Can be used to refer to the University faculties, its final examinations, and the building in which examinations are held ("the Exam Schools").

 

Scout              

A college domestic assistant.  Originally scouts performed all sorts of duties for undergraduates including preparing breakfast, laying fires, arranging travel tickets, etc. but now the term applies to those who clean a student’s room.

 

SCR               

Senior Common Room.  A social club for the Fellows, Lecturers and Honorary Members of a College. As with JCR and MCR (q.v.), the term can refer either to the club itself or to its premises (generally a room in College set aside for the SCR members' social use). 

 

Sent down       

Permanently expelled.

 

Servitor           

The lowest order of undergraduate.  Servitors usually received tuition in return for performing menial tasks around college such as waiting on table.  Servitors were abolished during the nineteenth century, although some colleges did have tasks that could be done by an undergraduate in return for tuition until relatively recently.

 

Steward           

In most colleges, the person in charge of the college bar. At Christ Church, the Steward is the Domestic Bursar in charge of all matters relating to bed and board, conferences, catering, etc.

 

Student           

The Christ Church equivalent (always spelt with an upper-case ‘S’) of a Fellow.

 

Subfusc           

The ‘uniform’ required of any member of the university for official occasions including examinations.  Usually a dark suit, white shirt, and white bow tie, worn with an academic gown and cap.  Women wear a black skirt or trousers, a white blouse, and usually a black ribbon in place of a bow tie. Students also traditionally wear carnations during their examinations: white during their first examination, red for their last, and pink for the others.

 

Summer Eights

See Eights (q.v.).

Tabs

Denizens of The Other Place (q.v.). "Shoe the Tabs!" is a commonly heard cry at Varsity matches or other occasions where Oxford students come into competitive contact with students of The Other Place.

 

The Other Place      

Cambridge University.

 

The Bird and Baby   

The Eagle and Child pub on St Giles which was once the meeting place for the Inklings, a writing society whose members included JRR Tolkien and CS Lewis.

 

The High         

The High Street.

 

Torpids           

Rowing races which take place in February.  The term ‘torpid’ originally referred to a college’s second VIII.  The races, while still fiercely contended, are less prestigious than the Summer Eights.

 

Trinity term     

Summer term, running from April to July. See also: Michaelmas term, Hilary term.

 

Tute

Tutorial. In Oxford, this refers to a small, weekly class of one to four students. Where possible, tutorials are held in a student's own College and taken by a lecturer or Fellow of that College, who is known as the student's Tutor and with whom the student will hopefully develop a close working relationship (for example, AJP Taylor was Tutor in History to several generations of students at Magdalen College). Exceptions are made in cases where a student is studying a subject in which no academics in his or her College teach.

Visitor             

All the older colleges have a Visitor to whom the Governing Body may turn in cases of insoluble dispute.  This is often a successor to the founder. At Christ Church and Oriel College, for example, as Royal foundations, the Visitor is the reigning monarch.  The Queen is also Visitor at University College. At All Souls, Keble, and Merton it is the Archbishop of Canterbury; at Queen’s, the Archbishop of York;  Corpus Christi, Brasenose, Exeter, Lincoln, Magdalen, New, St Anne’s, St John’s, St Peter’s, Trinity, and Wadham have bishops; Hertford, Lady Margaret Hall, Pembroke, St Edmund Hall’s, and Somerville colleges have the Chancellor of the University as their Visitor; St Catherine’s College is visited by the Duke of Edinburgh.  Other Colleges are visited by the Lord High Steward of the University, or by a senior politician or distinguished alumnus selected by the College. The predominance of clergymen reflects the religious origins of the University.

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