Monday, November 3, 2008

Words I'm Looking Up and a Word Against Our Sponsors

Until editing a story today, I never stopped to wonder whether the word "alumnus" referred only to graduates of a specific institution or whether it also applied to former students who did not graduate.

The answer is that, yes, it applies to former students who did not graduate. But that answer came with some additional info I hadn't anticipated: Some sources say that "alumnus" is exclusively for males.

I'll let American Heritage online explain:

Inflected forms: pl. a·lum·ni (-n)A male graduate or former
student of a school, college, or university.

Alumnus and alumna both come from Latin and preserve Latin
plurals. Alumnus is a masculine noun whose plural is alumni, and alumna is a
feminine noun whose plural is alumnae. Coeducational institutions usually use
alumni for graduates of both sexes. But those who object to masculine forms in
such cases may prefer the phrase alumni and alumnae or the form alumnae/i, which
is the choice of many women's colleges that have begun to admit men.'s definition contains no mention of gender. Webster's New World College Dictionary takes a middle position:

a person, especially a boy or man, who has attended or is a graduate of a
particular school, college, etc.

I know you Latin language buffs probably already knew that. I just found it interesting that the Americans adapting the term can't yet decide on this.

* * *

I try to refrain from political commentary here -- the reason being that, after far too many years on this planet, I finally realized nobody cares what I think and they're certainly not looking to me to help them change their minds about stuff they've already made up their minds about.

However, today there's a "Yes on Prop 8" Google ad on my blog. In light of that, I feel I should say that I oppose California's Proposition 8. And I wish to hell that people would stop treating our state constitution as a vehicle for accomplishing political ends not handled to their satisfaction at the legislative level.

I should, of course, contact Google and figure out how to edit ads. But I have a full work day, a trip and public appearance to prepare for in two days, more weird freelancy stuff on top of that, and a very sick husband at home who one minute craves orange Gatorade but can't keep down the red flavor and the next minute can't keep down the orange flavor but craves the red. So by the time I figure out how to get that ad off my blog, the election will be over. So it's easier just to say:

I'm voting NO on California's Proposition 8 and hope everyone else does, too.

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kidicarus222 said...

Congrats on voting against Prop 8. Bummer on the ad showing up.

On the alumni/alumnus/alumna/alumnae thing: How valid is "alum"? I see it a lot. I know my paper is against it on grounds that it's an improper shortening because it drops the "n" before the gender suffix, yet I feel like it solves the problem neatly enough that it should be considered.

June Casagrande said...

Hmmm. As of 10 minutes ago, both you and your paper's decision-makers had put more thought into this than I ever had.

But now that I've checked a couple dictionaries, I'll go out on a limb and side in favor of "alum." Webster's New World and American Heritage both include it as an informal word for an alumnus or alumna. So yes, if you guys were coining the truncated term, dropping the n would be weird. But since popular usage is already dropping it for you, it's giving credibility to "alum."

Feels funny in the mouth, though: "alum." Like that last syllable is in danger of being eaten entirely.


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