Hall’s “A Collection of College Words and Customs”


If, like me, you’re fond of flipping through old dictionaries filled with obsolete words (I mean, I’m not the only person who does that… right?), you may wish to take a glance at A Collection of College Words and Customs, published in 1851, by Benjamin Homer Hall.  In this lexicon of college jargon, much of which was already considered archaic by the middle of the nineteenth century, you’ll unsurprisingly find a great many Latin words and phrases used to describe these oddities.  For example, here’s the entry for what seems to have been a terrifying club, wielded by the most menacing students:

“INTONITANS BOLUS.  Greek, bolos, a lump.  Latin, bolus, a bit, a morsel.  English, bolus, a mass of any thing made into a large pill.  It may be translated a thundering pill.  At Harvard College, the Intonitans Bolus was a great cane or club which was given nominally to the strongest fellow in the graduating class; ‘but really,’ says a correspondent, ‘to the greatest bully,’ and thus was transmitted, as an entailed estate, to the Samsons of the College.  If any one felt that he had been wronged in not receiving this emblem of valor, he was permitted to take it from its possessor if he could.  In later years the club presented a very curious appearance; being almost entirely covered with the names of those who had held it, carved on its surface in letters of all imaginable shapes and descriptions.  It has disappeared within the last ten or fifteen years, and its hiding-place, even if it is in existence, is not known.  See BULLYISM.”

If you do have the opportunity to read through this glossary, I might also suggest the entries for the “Burning of Convivium,” which describes elaborate ceremonies in which much-detested Latin and Greek textbooks are burned on a funeral pyre, and for “Latin Spoken at Colleges,” which provides a short account of the use, and eventual decline, of oral Latin in early American schools!