Learning to speak ‘Cambridge’

An MMLer describes her struggle to learn the hardest language of them all: that of the Cantab

Anastasia Dalchanina

Magdalene is frequently mispronounced by Cambridge studentsAndrew Dunn

Considering that English is not my first language, being in the UK was hard enough for a girl who used to pronounce Leicester as Lei-chester without Magdalene being, for some godforsaken reason, pronounced Maud-lin (but only when referring to the college of course!). As an MML-er I now hope to finish Tripos with a fluency in French, Spanish and Cantab.

Whilst new additions to my vocabulary such as DoS, supervision and tutor made perfect sense as words unique to Cambridge academia, what confused me immensely was the need to rename pretty much everything else as well. I will never comprehend why autumn, spring and summer term could not be titled as such... doesn’t Easter term take place after Easter anyway?

In my first Michaelmas, I didn’t attend a single society Freshers’ Squash, as I, quite reasonably in my opinion, assumed that attending them entailed actually playing squash. The fact that these events did not take place in squash courts was not enough to tip me off, (which probably demonstrates just how little I know about squash).

In my first DoS meeting, I also learned that at the University of Cambridge, there was no such thing as ‘holidays’, there were only ‘vacations’: periods of time where students vacated their accommodation but were expected to continue working as they would during term (shock).

Our terms are not the only thing shortened. Most vocabulary that we learn in Freshers’ Week is also then abbreviated. Pidge, plodge, Sidge and supo come to mind.

It appears as though, in order to make more time for the monumental amount of work that all Cambridge students seem to have a never-ending supply of, we feel the need to skimp on syllables. Instead of wasting breath to state ‘the Sainsbury’s in town’ or ‘Sainsbury’s Local’, we opt for ‘Mainsbury’s’, ‘Slocal’s’ and the legendary ‘Farawainsbury’s’. 

Acronyms such as JCR are to be expected, however, I only recently discovered that the C stands for ‘Combination’ and not ‘Common’- a shock to the system unlike any other. A combination of what, you might ask? Probably of words we don’t understand.


Mountain View

Book returned to University Library – almost 60 years too late

Ultimately, it is a Cambridge student's destiny to never truly know the names of the clubs they frequent ('Ballare' just doesn't have the same ring to it as 'Cindies').

Although learning Cantabrigian colloquialisms may be tedious and perhaps a bit elitist, it soon becomes just another Cambridge quirk, one you can mock amongst your college friends and show off to visiting ones.