In its Fall 2011 issue, Portico recognized the late Frieda E. Myers ’51, who in April had honored her mother’s memory with a scholarship in her name. Her mother, Anna L. Hardy ’16 (pictured) had written this essay in 1913 as a freshman in her English I class—just shy of a century ago. So what do you think: have times changed?
Our vocabularies become so mixed with slang that we often fail to realize we are not employing terms in good use. We take up expressions that have some peculiar origin and willingly or carelessly make them our own. We persuade ourselves that no good English terms would convey just the meaning we wish to express and we must use words that defy refutable language. I say there are very few, if any of us, who are free from the use of college slang.
I heard a college girl who usually makes use of good English say, “Do you get me?” when she meant, “Do you understand me?” Another said, “Swipe,” when she really meant, “Steal.”
“I don’t know beans about it,” was an expression used by one who meant to convey the meaning that she did not know anything about the matter. I question whether we will make our associates trust us completely if we continually say, “Believe me.” Neither will a great number of other expressions cause them to have greater respect for us.
A strange young man appeared in the hall of a certain college. His visit excited the following conversation.
First Girl: “Gee, ain’t he a ‘swell’ looker’?”
Second Girl: “He’s ‘some guy’.”
First Girl: “Believe me, I’m going to ‘set my cap’ for him.”
Second Girl: “There’s that old bell. I’ll be ‘horn swaddled’ if I go.”
First Girl: “I’ll cut class if you will.”
Second Girl: “I’d do anything to get a ‘knock down’ to such a ‘swell.’”
Quite a number of shortened forms have found way into our college vocabularies. They are really a very little better than slang. It surely seems more polite to say, “Professor” instead of saying “Prof.” It would sound more nearly as if we cared if we would not say “exam,” for examinations, or “Comp” for Composition. We give “extemps” in some places but in Philalethea they are extemporaneous speeches. We go to the “lab” to perform experiments but the catalog calls it “laboratory.” We take our physical culture in the “gym,” but when it was built it was a “gymnasium.” We have no girls living at the dormitory; they stay at the “dorm.”
There are several expressions that are used most frequently by the entire student body. Very few of us think of saying that we were called before the president; instead we say we had to go “on the green carpet.” Those of us who are so unfortunate as to be expelled from class say we were “ditched” or “fired.” When we fail on examination we never think that we will be misunderstood if we say we “flunked.”
One of our most flexible words is the term “stunt.” It may mean anything. Of course it is true that action is implied but an individual or a whole school might be engaged in “pulling off the stunt.” It is true that we can usually make ourselves understood by the student body and those who daily associate with us. That is not our purpose for being in college. If it were we could get enough slang phrase and peculiar constructions without going to the trouble to enter college. We are expected to go back to our home communities with a broader view and better English after we have attended college for a number of years. Many of us will have to make an effort to correct our English if we would fulfill the requirements of the better class of people.