Volume 32 Number 3 Spring/Summer 2010
In this Issue
- Hardwood Heroes
- You Do What?
The Editor's Page
- Up, Up, and Away
- Letters to the Editor
Along Middle Path
- On Location
- A Door to the Past
- Teacher, Scholar, Leader
- Beauty Queen
- Bic Band Beat
- In and Out at Kenyon
- The Hot Sheet
- Gambier is Talking About...
- What's your Kenyon Quotient?
- Kenyon in Quotes
- Last but not Least
- Sports Round-Up
- In from the Fringe
- Recent Books by Kenyon Authors
- Language of Death
- Can restored wetlands make up for the loss of natural systems?
- Not in my Job Description: Cover to Cover
- American Thinker
- Arguing with Tradition
- Alumni Digest
The Last Page
- Back Up: Or, how I learned to steer a college division by driving a tractor-trailer.
by Dan Laskin
The linguists tell us that there's a universal grammar. Maybe so. But there's only one dork bell. Only one Fauncey. And only one sangy man—or would that be sangie man?
That's because there's only one Kenyon, a remote little universe unto itself where odd locutions arise, flourish, mutate, evolve, and mysteriously vanish. Call it the oral counterpart of the College's literary tradition—more earthy than erudite, in equal measures colorful and off-color. Kenyon students have always invented their own language to go with their own insular society, reinvent it with every generation, and remember it forever.
Last fall, we put out a call for uniquely "Kenyon terms." Alumni of many eras answered, introducing us to elephant scabs and sex pie, the creepee teepee and the smooch crush. (Okay, we found that last one ourselves, in the Collegian.)
Here's a sampling of what turned up. Have we overlooked your favorite expletive or least-favorite dining-hall concoction? Send us more. We have faith that Kenyon grads will never run out of words.
ash tray party This phrase goes back to the dance-weekend era, when smoking was still good for you (or at least sanctioned). The big bash, of course, was on Saturday night. But groggy Sunday mornings featured festivities of their own. One was the ash tray party, so called because "fraternity parlors looked like one large ash tray," according to emeritus trustee Edgar Davis '53. His classmate Dave Paul remembers the ash tray party as "one at which a relatively large number of revelers piled together in a room designed for a lesser number." Which suggests an alternative derivation, in the image of butts in an ashtray. See also milk punch parties.
baby book File under "good intentions marred." The baby book was an annually printed booklet showing photos of the incoming first-year and transfer students. (The actual title consisted simply of the class year.) The intention was to build community and help professors get to know the new faces in their classes. But copies inevitably fell into the hands of male students who cruised the pages for less noble purposes. Some groups reportedly used the book to create party-invitation lists and rating sheets, and—with the advent of the Web—posted photos with mean-spirited comments. Given the abuse, the College discontinued the book after 2001 (Class of 2005). Faculty members can now find photos of students in a password-controlled online database. For everyone else, there's Facebook.
"Baby Drama" The nickname for "Introduction to the Theater," the drama faculty's boot camp in Aristotelian structure. Created by one of the department's founding fathers, James E. Michael, the course has gone from full year to one semester, but it still throws students headlong into the process of "bringing a play to life" through a series of creative assignments. Generations of Kenyon theater notables cut their thespian teeth on "Baby Drama," although it's not clear how far back the nickname goes. Wendy MacLeod '81, the James Michael Playwright-in-Residence, didn't hear the term until she returned to the College to teach in 1990.
BARF When Kenyon started building its new athletic center in 2003, the size of the project made it a target for criticism and humor. It didn't help that College officials referred to the building with a less-than-inspiring acronym, FRA (from the provisional name Center for Fitness, Recreation, and Athletics). Campus wags came up with something more evocative: Big Ass Recreational Facility. When the finished building was named the Kenyon Athletic Center ("the KAC"), FRA vanished into the mists of time. And nobody in the KAC talks about BARF anymore (except perhaps after particularly tough workouts).
Beefeck Pronounced BEE-feck, this is what students seem to have settled on in response to the fact that the acronym for the Brown Family Environmental Center (BFEC) doesn't lend itself to anything that trips lightly off the tongue. Some people say, simply, "The Brown."
blown-lunch ties Gaudy, tasteless ties. This vivid, if slightly nauseating, term was used during the 1950s.
continual justice! The phrase has nothing to do with law, except perhaps the natural law holding that varsity swimmers are always hungry. The men's swimming team apparently coined "continual justice" to refer to the advent of open eating hours, 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m., in Peirce Hall. Later, it was abbreviated simply to "justice!" and gained wider currency. By one account, the phrase was first uttered by Craig Hummer '87. It's certainly possible: Hummer went on to a golden-tongued career as a sportscaster. See also extendo in "What's Cooking?"
creepee teepees These were fraternity parties held in parlors during rainy dance weekends. Edgar Davis '53 recalls the scene: "large sheets hung from chandeliers, kegs underneath, and lots of whoopee!"
dork bell The closing-time bell in the library. This is a contemporary term, which may be uttered with pride-tinged embarrassment. ("Okay, I stayed until the dork bell all week, but I got an A on the paper.") Also known as the nerd bell.
the mock-elegant Frenchified "é" Murray Horwitz '70 H'92 recalls "the curious late-sixties phenomenon," which he believes was invented by Robert Gladstone '69, of adding an accented E to the names of people, producing the sound ay. Thus, Gladstone was "The Gladé," Donald Bandler '69 H'06 was "The Bandolay," and Horwitz himself was (and still is, to many) "The Murré." Appending "the" apparently wasn't obligatory. Professor Donald Rogan was simply "Roguay."
finger, fingering No, nothing to do with obscene gestures. This is a Kenyon techno-term from ye olde days (the 1990s), when the College's e-mail network ran on VAX computers. "Fingering" was a useful, if sinister-sounding, feature whereby you could enter somebody else's username and, if that person happened to be logged onto his or her e-mail at the time, you'd learn the location of the terminal. "Some people used this to stalk their crush or their ex," recalls Dana Whitley '02, "but others used it to actually locate people on campus in order to call them on a landline," so as to let them know that they were about to receive an e-mail. As GPS said to cell phone: Quaint.
IHTFP Initials for an expression of disgruntlement during mud season. The letters stand for "I hate this f***ing place."
Jean Valdean's or Gene ValJean's A nickname for Dorothy's Lunch, the popular basement-level greasy spoon and watering hole on Wiggin Street that served town and gown from the 1950s through the 1970s. The moniker mixes various ingredients: Dorothy's last name (Dean), the name of her first husband (Gene)-in fact, the bar and grill was originally called Gene's-plus the hero of Victor Hugo's Les Misérables (Jean Valjean). Edgar Davis '53 writes of Dorothy's: "Iron City and Duquesne Beer was a quarter, a hard-boiled egg was a nickel, a steak was a dollar, and the old dining room table had initialed carvings, including Paul Newman's." See also Thee's.
"Just for Questice" The spooneristic name for the famed first-year political science course "Quest for Justice," circa mid-1990s.
justice! See continual justice!
Kenyon krud The all-purpose name for whatever nasty bug is going around, usually during a period when students aren't getting enough sleep and are socializing in too-close quarters-which is to say, any time between September and May. Symptoms may include coughing, sneezing, sore throat, sore joints, soul-weariness, the blahs, and gastrointestinal agony.
Lake College for Eerie Women During the all-male era at Kenyon, some of the dates for dance weekends would come from Lake Erie College for Women, in Painesville, Ohio. The Kenyon boys playfully altered the name of the institution. And some went on to marry "Eerie" women-for example, Perry Lentz '64, who would return to the College as an English professor.
milk punch parties Like the ash tray parties, these gatherings would be held on Sunday mornings during dance weekends. The locale: the Benson Bowl or the football field, depending on who's doing the remembering. The lubricant: milk mixed with cheap whiskey-or, some say, rum-served up in a large wash bucket.
"out" (as a verbal appendage) During the 1950s, you could turn a noun into a verb by adding the word "out," recalls Harley Henry '59. Thus, "flick out" was to go to the movies in Mount Vernon, and "Beck out" was to go for a burger and fries at Beck's drive-in.
Phling Shorthand for Philander's Phebruary Phling, a semiformal dance and all-around blowout held every February as a way of dispelling winter blues. Phling, which dates from 1991, owes its existence to an endowed fund created in 1989 by then-trustee Charles Davison and his wife, Lessie, to support student activities. (Their son, Andrew, was in the Class of 1987.) The weekend party usually features a casino, has occasionally included a mock Mr. and Ms. Kenyon pageant, and always has a theme. Some recent examples: James Bond, the Roaring Twenties, Fables and Fairy Tales, Midnight Masquerade.
poe No, not he of the raven and nevermore. Instead, the name for the post office, or P.O.
sangy man or sangie man In the deprived days before pizza delivery, the hungry masses hunkering down for a night of study would eagerly await the sangy man (or "sangie" man), a student who made the rounds of the dorms at night, selling sandwiches and other snacks. Arriving in a hallway, the roving munchie-monger would shout out, "Sangy man!" like a Dickensian street-hawker. Graduates from the late 1960s and early 1970s remember the sangy man-who, by the way, wasn't always a man after the opening of the Coordinate College for Women. But it's not clear when the term originated. Itinerant sandwich-selling goes back at least to the 1950s. (See PBLM in "What's Cooking?")
scrotum pole Not to put too fine a point on it, the Bulletin has already covered the scrotum pole ("Only at Kenyon," Winter 2008). But, as Murray Horwitz '70 H'92 notes, "any Kenyon glossary would be deficient" without this uncomfortably irresistible term. (One can imagine "dork bell" emerging independently in some other corner of the globe. But not "scrotum pole.") So, to recap: In the politically (but not anatomically) incorrect all-male days when Kenyon upperclassmen lorded their status over the freshmen with hazing-like rules, the lowly first-years had to leap, spread-legged, over the stone post at the College gates whenever they passed that way. Think of how often, every day, a student goes through the gates. Think of that hard stone pole, and one's own tender flesh. Think of the natural tendency to deflect fear with humor and maybe a touch of poetry. Clearly there was only one logical name for the pole.
smooch crush For several years, the Collegian has run an occasional column called "Sex in the Country," devoted to romance, relationships, and, yes, carnal frolic on a certain isolated Ohio hilltop. One column last fall, written by "five real-life ladies of ninth-floor Caples," presented a brief taxonomy of crushes. The most original (at least to the Bulletin's fusty editors) was the "smooch crush," defined as "someone you want to grab, kiss, and walk away from with no emotional repercussions." Both smoochers should realize that "no hanky-panky will ensue . . . it's a case of puckering up and parting ways."
suicide lights A morbid term for the holiday lights strung through the bare branches of the trees lining Middle Path in downtown Gambier-a practice begun within the past decade. The College puts up the lights every December and leaves them twinkling all winter long, presumably with the intention of lifting spirits during the dark season. Of course, in the depths of February, it's easy to see the tiny bits of light as reminders of one's own paltriness in the surrounding gloom.
Thee's Another name for Dorothy's Lunch. (See Jean Valdean's.) Note that the "th" is an unvoiced phoneme, pronounced not as in "of thee I sing" but as in "thanks for the memories."
The Vermin A nickname for the Vernon, a movie theater in Mount Vernon, according to Doug Downey '51. Mount Vernon's Memorial Theater was known as the Immoral. A third theater, the Vine, was called the Armpit.
the Vern Mount Vernon, a contemporary term. As in: "You'd be crazy to buy batteries in the bookstore. There's a Walmart in the Vern."