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Frank Stubbings on the Language of Cambridge University

RJO’s Reviews on Amazon.com

These brief book reviews have been posted to Amazon.com, and they may be viewed there in their original form either collectively (on my public reviews page) or individually (by following the link at each title below).

Charming and Enlightening

Bedders, Bulldogs and Bedells: A Cambridge Glossary
Frank Stubbings
Cambridge University Press, 1995 (revised edition)

This charming small volume is an alphabetical dictionary of terms common to and distinctive of Cambridge University in England. Stubbings is a Classicist by profession, and he explains both the origins of the terms (many of which come from Latin of course) as well as their present and past meanings. Far from being a simple dictionary, many of the entries are delightful small essays on some aspect of university life, from colleges to fellows, from gowns to orators, from scholars to sizars.

While many of the terms in the volume refer to practices and offices that no longer exist, others are very much alive today, and some deserve wider currency. My own favorite is the verb “to be progged” (to be caught by a proctor while committing some offense).

If you are fond of life in the academic world, or of the history of education, or of odd dialects and strange vocabularies, you will derive much pleasure from this volume. It is a window into a rich and often quirky social environment that is very different from the bureaucratized and slogan-filled universities of today.

By the way, “bedders” are (or were) college bedmakers, largely supplanted today by modern custodians of one sort or another; “bulldogs” are university constables; and “bedells” were once the attendants of the head of the university but now their office involves little more than carrying the university mace on ceremonial occasions.


© RJO 1995–2016