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Make It Make Sense: Debunking Oxford Terminology

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By Zero Gravity – 3rd November 2023

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The University of Oxford uses farrrr to many terms to get your head around. We’ve laid them all out here to answer your questions - from What Is Sub Fusc and What is a Bod Card? All the way through to What is a Bop? Can I safely consume Bop Juice without dying of a hangover?

Important bits up the top, student life bits down the bottom!

Ceremonies, Awards and the Important Bits

Matriculation (noun)
What is matriculation? Well, it’s the ceremony that makes you an *official* student at The University of Oxford. It takes place after you’ve completed your first official Week 1 of study (not Freshers Week). You trot off to the Sheldonian with your year group, and come back to college to snap a year pic, and then you usually hit up a very grubby club afterwards.

Sub Fusc (noun)
Your academic dress worn for Matriculation, collections, and your finals. Or as your friends will call it - your ‘wizard robes’ and then comment ‘How’s Hogwarts?’ on your Instagram posts of you wearing it. What are the requirements of Sub Fusc? Well, they are pretty strict.

On the top half, you must wear a long-sleeve white shirt, with a white bowtie or a black ribbon tied round the neck (traditionally girls wear the ribbon and lads wear the bowtie, but it really doesn’t matter - wear what you want). You can wear a black suit jacket with it as well if you like.

On the bottom half, long black trousers or black skirt and black tights, and black shoes - you can have NO SKIN showing below your waist, and don’t have any white socks or ankle showing - they might not let you matriculate and might make you go home and change (!).

Over your clothes, wear your academic gown (bought new from Shepard and Woodward, or you can buy them on Ebay/FB Marketplace for cheaper). If you smash your first year exams/Mods and get a First, you are allowed to get a fancy pants Scholars Gown, which has a few extra ruffles to show that you are a very smart cookie. You also have to bring a mortar board with you (can also be bought in charity shops/Ebay), all this is not to be put on your head until graduating. Strict, right?

Sheldonian (noun)

The building in which you matriculate, and graduate - no chance of getting in any other time, so make sure you have a good ogle at it while you’re in there.

Battels (noun)

Rent money, and any other fines you’ve incurred that you need to pay the college for.

Blue (noun)

What is an Oxford Blue? Well, if you’re actually decent at sport, you can become an ‘Oxford Blue’, which means that you play sport for the university. You will also hear Oxford Blues talking about how they’re going to ‘shoe the tabs’, a really odd phrase which means that they are going to demolish Cambridge at sport (tabs = Cambridge).

Rustication (noun, verbal use: rusticating, rusticated)

When a student suspends their studies for a year in order to protect their mental/physical health, deal with family problems at home, or other circumstances making it tough to continue the route as foreplanned. Note: there is no shame in rusticating, and many, many students do it. They usually return feeling freshed, and integrate well into the year below, ending up with double the pals.

Michaelmas, Hilary, Trinity (noun)

What are the three terms at Oxford? Why is it called Hilary term? No doubt you’ve been asking these question. Essentially, Oxford is notoriously ‘ye olde-y’ which means that the terms do not have standard names. Term 1 (October to Christmas) is named ‘Michaelmas’, taking its name from the Feast of St Michael. Term 2 (Jan to Easter time) is named Hilary, named after the feast day of St Hilary. Term 2 (Post Easter holidays until breaking up for Summer) takes its name from Trinity Sunday, which falls eight weeks after Easter. Each term is eight weeks long.

0th/Noughth Week (noun)

(Debatable as to whether it's pronounced 'Not-th Week' or 'Zeroth Week')
A week preceding the official start of term in which you can move back into college, but have no classes. You can usually move in on the Sunday of Noughth Week, and can burn through all the reading you were meant to do all over the holidays but didn’t.

Porters (noun)

Porters are folk who keep college running. They man the doors to stop intruders, randoms and excitable Harry Potter fans from breaking into college. Make friends with your porters - not only will you see them everyday, and it’s just like - basic human decency - but they look after your mail, can let you smuggle ‘nighttime guests’ in, and they can sometimes do incredible favours for you, like fix your bike.

Bod Card (noun)

This is your lifeline. It’ll let you into all the centralised libraries and allow you to take books out. It’s often used as your identification card to show porters to be let into other colleges so don’t lose it…

Rad Cam (noun)

Short for ‘Radcliffe Camera’, this the big beautiful round library right in the middle of Oxford. Can you go inside the Radcliffe Camera? Yes you can - if you’re a student. You’ll need your Bod Card to buzz in and they are very, very uptight about it (no explaining that you’re a student - they won’t let you in without your Bod Card)!

Collections (noun)

Collections are just a fancy word for mock exams. They usually take place at the start of each term, just to make sure that you haven’t done any relaxing over your break and have been studying the whole time 🙄. What happens if you fail collections? Absolutely nothing. Your tutor will have a moan at you, but really they are a chance for you to get feedback and see how you’re actually doing.

Finals/FHS (noun)

What is FHS? It stands for Final Honour School, also known as ‘finals’. These are the last exams you do in order to graduate. For humanities students like English Lit students, these are the only exams that count towards your final grade (along with dissertation). They take place in Trinity Term and are usually spread over a singular gruelling week or two. If you see a 'Finalist' (someone undergoing these exams), keep a wide berth. They are tired, haggard and sleepless wretches.

Mods (noun)

Exams done in Hilary Term, or in Second Year. Only necessary for some subjects, like Law, Psychology and Classics.

Exhibition (noun)

An award given to students as a mini-scholarship. The college gives you some cash for doing well in your studies, and it generally means that you’re predicted to get a First. Can you get a Scholars Gown if you get an Exhibition? Yes, of course you can.

College Life + Parties + Societies

College (noun)

The place you are associated with! Your professors who teach you will be affiliated with your college, it’s where you live (if you live onsite), you are a member of their JCR, and it’s where you have access to its library, grounds, gardens and hall to eat in. If you're wondering - Which Oxford college is best to study at? It's subjective to opinion - colleges vary on exclusivity, grounds, and politics.

JCR (collective noun)

Junior Common Room. You elect a student body, from a President to a Treasurer, and they vote on motions (i.e. “Should we issue a statement to condemn [Insert Condemnable Thing]”, or “Should we buy this pizza oven for the college for fifty quid?”).

Hall (noun)

Short for the ‘dining hall’

Bop (noun)

A ‘Big Open Party’ held by colleges. Usually a somewhat feral affair with dubious costume themes (New College’s memorable “M&S and S&M” theme was one for the books). A general night of debauchery ensues and the night is sure to finish with Robbie Williams’ ‘Angels’ or ‘Red, Red Wine’.

Bop Juice (noun)

A substance famously banned at LMH and Lincoln College for years after the students couldn’t be trusted with it, bop juice is usually a spirit + wine + mixer combination served up from some sort of plastic receptacle. The dangers of it have been described by Phoebe Wall in her Cherwell article as “The mysterious lack of measurements led to the removal of this beloved beverage. A drink that tastes like juice is therefore easy to guzzle and is also free of charge, leading to unnerving hangovers.” Consume at your own peril.

The Oxford Union (more commonly known as ‘The Union’) (noun)

What is The Oxford Union? Well, it is NOT the Student Union (two separate entities). It runs big talks with celebrities, and allows students to campaign for places on it much like a miniature parliament. Many of Oxford Union Presidents have gone on to be Prime Ministers of the UK. Can anyone go to an Oxford Union debate? Short answer is No, you have to have a membership, or be taken as the guest of someone who is a member.

(Union) Slate (noun)

A group of people campaigning to be the mini-politicians running the Oxford Union

(Union) Hack (noun, verbal usage: "Stop hacking me")

Someone who is trying to get you to vote for a union slate. Usually pesters you with various DMs irrespective of whether you are interested in the Union, or even hold a membership to it.

Crewdate (noun)

An absolutely monstrous drinking activity which involves your college/society/sports team/drinking society linking up with a fellow college/society/sports team/drinking society. This usually involves going to Jamal’s (an Indian restaurant in Jericho) in fancy dress and clutching a bottle of Zesty White from Tesco. Crewdates are expensive because you generally have to overpay a deposit to the restaurant owners because they are so raucous. There, you can expect to play ‘pennies’, which basically involves chucking coins into people’s wine to make them down it.

Port and Policy, Champagne and Socialism (nouns)

Social Events. The first is run by the Conservative Association, the latter is a left-wing group. Pick your poison!

Trashing (verb, noun usage: ‘Are you coming to my Trashing?’)

Now, as we legally must mention, *banned* and will incur a LARGE fine. But what is trashing at Oxford? Trashing is when a student finishes their exams, and their friends cover them from head to toe in powder paint, confetti, whipped cream and champagne (realistically - Lambrini).

College Bar (noun)

The bar run by your college. Most college bars are run independently, except for LMH, which has the only student-run bar in Oxford (make friends with people who work there). Every college bar has a signature ‘college drink’, a cocktail unique to it.

Oxfess (noun)

A Facebook page where students confess misdemeanours, escapades, college crushes and vents about their dirty flatmates.

Oxlove (noun)

A Facebook page where students confess their love to people on their course, fit people spotted in the library, celebrities spotted in Oxford, or their professors. Not uncommon for people to visit the central libraries with a full beat of makeup with the expressed desire of being ‘Oxloved’.

Sharking (verb)

An icky term you will (unfortunately) hear a lot around Freshers Week, in which an older student (2nd/3rd year) makes a move on a Fresher. No loss of limbs occur as from standard shark attacks, usually only loss of dignity.

Formal (noun)

An optional very lovely candlelit meal in your college halls. Formal are different at every college. At some colleges, Formal happens every night, for other colleges, it only happens once a week. Equally, you must wear Sub Fusc to some formals and not to others, and some formals are more dressier than others (we’re talking actual ballgowns).

Cherwell, The Oxford Blue, The Isis Magazine

The college newspapers. The Isis (named after the river in Oxford) is a more artsy, Cherwell and ‘the Blue’ are a little more newsy.

Key cultural touchstones

Park End (noun)

Grubby nightclub, famous for it's Wednesday nights as this is when the sports teams go on nights out

Bridge (noun)

Grubby nightclub, famous for it's Thursday nights, and also Old Man Bridge

Old Man Bridge (noun)

Old Man Bridge is a legendary figure who haunts the corridors of Bridge, a dirty nightclub near the train station in Oxford. You are very likely to see him cutting shapes on the dance floor, or sort of lounging on the tables by the coat racks. Scrummy!

Najars (noun)

THE student spot to eat. Known to produce legendary falafel wraps and occasionally food poisoning as they cook halloumi off a grill on the floor, it is the best place to get cheap scran in Oxford.

Pasta College (noun)

It has been said - not by us, but almost by everyone else - that Keble College looks like a lasagna. And so - it has become pasta college.

‘The college where fun goes to die’ (noun)

Again, we’re not saying this, but it has been said that Merton College is where fun goes to die. Allegedly.

Think we missed out any key terms about The University of Oxford? Send us a message and we’ll update it!

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