Jess Molyneux explores the complex world of Oxbridge-specific termsMax Pixel

“What the hell is a gyp?” Imagine. An English student, who prides herself on precision and transparency in all verbal endeavours, and yet here I found myself confounded, horrified, and ashamed, momentarily unable to explain myself to my twin sister, the one person with whom communication had always been not just easy and natural, but intuitive.

We’d managed ‘matriculation’ (seriously, what a weird word) together, she at Oxford and I at Cambridge, but that not-so-little Latin term was merely an enrolment into the wacky world of Oxbridge lingo which, as my poor parents found, only gets more dizzying in a double helping.

There is a No Man’s Land of nouns shared by Oxford and Cambridge. ‘Plodge’ and ‘pidge’ might have sounded silly at first, but students on both sides of Milton Keynes seem to have found these blended coinages expeditious. But, as expected, Oxford’s common sense draws the line there. For us Cantabs, ‘gyp’ might be a little odd, but at least it’s short and sweet, and is an exception in its lack of clear explicability. But Oxfordians seem to delight in exclusivity and confusion. Why would you call a ‘swap’ (which, admittedly, takes some explaining, but at least partially does what it says on the tin) a ’crew date’? And at such a social event, why talk about ‘sconcing’ when ‘fines’ are perfectly, well, fine?

“People chuckle when I insist that Oxford is way worse for speaking its own language, putting it down to sisterly rivalry”

Then there’s the downright ridiculous. At Cambridge, we understandably receive a ‘college bill’ for our rent and other bits and bobs. My sister, quite aggressively, is faced with ‘battles’. Aside from better describing the arguments that ensue when parents find out about that late-night taxi which the porters ordered to rescue you, I really can’t see the benefit of taking an entirely random word with a perfectly good, and totally irrelevant meaning, into such a service. ‘Collections’ is another one – guys, they’re just exams (in fact, they’re just mocks) – but at least wanting to avoid those is something we can relate to here in Cambridge, even if attempting to linguistically disguise them comes off as a little desperate.

People chuckle when I insist that Oxford is way worse for speaking its own language, putting it down to sisterly rivalry. And I know I’m right, but the fact is that coming back home from either city we face a choice when it comes to interacting with friends and family. Accommodate, make yourself expand ‘DOS’ to the arduous ‘Di-rect-or-of-stud-ies’ (or as my Oxfordian friend, hilariously self-consciously, did the other day, force yourself to add ‘orial’ to the sickeningly affectionate ‘tute’ to form Oxford’s ‘supervision’ equivalent, the ‘tutorial’). Or flaunt it, make life easy for yourself, and risk being accused of ‘coming home speaking another bloody language’ or being met with grimacing pleas for explanation. The choice is obvious, since it takes minimal effort to select alternatives, or just explain words which you’re using. But who isn’t a little tempted not to? Who hasn’t smiled involuntarily for a moment when asked to explain? Who doesn’t get a bit of a warm fuzzy feeling when using the language which reminds you of your friends in Cambridge, because it’s theirs as much as it’s yours?

"Accommodate, make yourself expand ‘DOS’ to the arduous ‘Di-rect-or-of-stud-ies’"

Just as I feel cosy in more than one sense wearing my college stash at Central Library in my home city, the language which we opt to use is, consciously or not, a component and a showcase of our Cantabrigian identity. Of course Oxfordian idioms don’t actually get on my nerves, but I like to protest that they do because, for me personally, it’s one of the little things which my sister and I don’t have to share any more. And, more broadly, we all emphasise and play upon those Oxford-Cambridge differences because they index our belonging to one or the other, something we are proud of. It is quite appropriate, then, that ‘stash’, that greatest marker of group identity and belonging, is a term we both find use for.


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Whether or not we should keep on with, and take such pride in, language which not only excludes those outside of the elite Oxbridge circle, but also daunts many who haven’t been versed in the dialect before arrival here is an obvious and important consideration. As with so many language controversies, we’ll never make the words go away, and we’ll never entirely stop people using them. I do genuinely think that there’s less terminology to be learnt at Cambridge than Oxford, but the difference is negligible. Glossaries in college freshers’ handbooks and in-the-know college parents are really good ways to make sure this language isn’t a tool for intimidation, but can be embraced by all. And we should keep thinking of new ways to make our jargon accessible: we need all the recruits we can get if we’re going to beat the other place in this war of words.

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