Oberlin Blogs

It's a Problem of Nomenclature

December 9, 2008

John West ’10

I think a die a little bit every time someone uses the word Obie to describe a person who goes to Oberlin (as in: We Obies love to hate things). I think The Grape--one of Oberlin College's many publications--described the word as (and I'm paraphrasing here) "a word used only by The Review and the Admissions Department."

It's not like there are many other options: I prefer Oberliner, but most find that too clunky; we could always just be imprecise and say we, but that is--as I've already said--imprecise.

I guess, now that I am but a cog in the machine that is the Oberlin Communications Department, I should start using Obie too.

But the problems don't stop there. Take Fairchild Hall, Fairchild Coop, and Fairchild Chapel. Most Obies (shudder) call Fairchild Hall and Fairchild Coop Fairkid (as in: Fairkid's out of food... again.), but I got chastised the other day for saying Fairkid chapel. It's strange. I know it's not that Obies have some reverence for the place; often left open overnight, it is a popular make-out spot for students in need of some privacy (there are no singles in first-year dorms...).

But there you have it. By convention, we say Fairkid for the dorm and the coop but not for the chapel.

Even coop is a problematic word. How does one spell it? We could use the hyphen (co-op), but, let's face it, that looks kind of silly. On the other hand, coop looks like you're talking about a place where chickens roost. My preference is to use an umlaut as a diaeresis mark (coöp), New Yorker style, but most people find that pretentious.

Then there's the trouble of Quarter Beers, formerly the name for the night at The 'Sco (The Dionysus Discotheque, the on-campus bar and dance hall) when one could buy a beer for a quarter. But now, they've raised prices to 50 cents. What do we call that? Most seem to have settled on Kennedy Beers, but there's still dissent.

Then they are the more straightforward examples. The Conservatory is called The Con (or Clown College by oh-so-clever College-only kids who think Connies don't do any work). Gender and Women's Studies majors (abbreviated to GAWS by the college) are called Jaws majors in a clever--but probably misogynistic--vagina dentata reference.

I don't know what it is about we Obies that leads us to come up with nicknames and abbreviations for everything on campus, but, if I had to guess, it's a way of taking ownership of the places we inhabit, a way of separating Us from Them. It's also a way of showing off how clever you are--a true Obie pastime.

On an entirely unrelated note, I wanted to abuse my position as a blogger for some shameless self-promotion. I will be playing a recital called Modern Mythologies tomorrow night (Wednesday the 10th) at 9:00 in Kulas in the Con. I play the recorder, so, you know, there's some novelty value attached to this whole enterprise. Will Mason, my fellow Communications Department minion blogger will be playing drums on a couple pieces. It should be a blast.

Responses to this Entry

I go for the full-on clunker "Oberlin Students" when I need to reference our collective selves in conversation.

And a confession: I still laugh uncontrollably when people refer to the conservatory as "clown college." I just think it's really, really funny.

Another confession: You will rue the day you asked a piddly little jazz drummer to play in your fancy-pants "Historical Performance" recital. I'm like the musical (and, alas, literal) version of that slow awkward kid in gym class; even in the best of circumstances I can only hold your dodgeball team back...

(But seriously, world, John's recital is sounding great and I recommend it to everyone. He's playing a wooden tube the size of a beer bottle and yet somehow managing to shred, shred, shred.)

Posted by: Will on December 9, 2008 11:18 AM

I'm not so sure about your assertion that only the Review & Admissions use the term Obie, or that it defines a person that goes to Oberlin. From my understanding, once an Obie, always an Obie. Perhaps this all just highlights your point that language is complicated, but when I think about where my fellow Oberlin graduates have ended up, I think I actually use the phrase "New York Obies" or "Obies in San Francisco."

One other point: Really, Fairchild Chapel is open at night? That seems quite dubious an assertion, plus making out in a public space because you can't take someone home sounds a lot like high school. I'm sure enterprising Obies can learn to share their living space, right?

Oh, no one more: you're a cog in the machine that is the Office of Communications, not the Communications Department.

Posted by: Lillie Chilen '08 on December 9, 2008 4:57 PM

I think "Obie" pops up when you have to define Oberlin to the outside world. It's a group identifier so when you're just a normal (ha) student, you don't need it. Perhaps if there was another college in town, or a larger town, but as is, if you're 18 to 22 in Oberlin, it's pretty clear you're an Obie. There's no need to use the term.

Unless, of course, you're an alum, or one of the happy square pegs at Admissions. We don't really do "cogs."

Lillie, can't the title be "Communicatrix"? Yeah?

PS: You kiss in Fairkid Chapel because it's gorgeous, like holding hands in the snow, or smooching in the rain. It's not a place for desperation.

Posted by: Aries on December 9, 2008 10:35 PM

I'm fascinated by the way particular nicknames spring into existence, and then are taken for granted by the next student generation, while they sound really peculiar to those of us who pre-date them. For instance, I capitulated to "Obie" long ago, and now don't give it a second thought. On the other hand, "Fairkid Chapel" sounds ridiculous to me. (My pet peeve is when students refer to Tappan Square as "Tappan," as in "I'll meet you at Tappan." ...Huh? When did that happen?)

My colleague (now retired) Robert Longsworth collected a decade's worth of Oberlin slang from his students, now published as "A Decade of Campus Language at Oberlin College: Obie-Speak" (sorry, John...). There are several copies in the library if you're interested.

Posted by: David Walker on December 9, 2008 11:19 PM


I suppose, quite obviously, The Review and Admissions aren't the only people to use "Obie." The Grape was generalizing. I was making the point that I don't--and many people I know don't--particularly care for the word.

And, true, the word isn't just for current Oberlin students; it's for any and all Oberliners. Nevertheless, both uses ring a little false in my ear.

My guess is that this is just the last pangs of my (hopefully) dying adolescent hatred of all things The Man, and in a couple of years I'll be singing Obie at the top of my lungs. In the meantime, though...

As for Fairkid: I, personally, haven't used it as a make-out spot. Once again, dubious as it may be, Fairkid, reportedly, is pretty awesome. And, as Aries correctly--and beautifully--pointed out:

You kiss in Fairkid Chapel because it's gorgeous, like holding hands in the snow, or smooching in the rain.

Although, her point is well taken that it "isn't a place for desperation.

I can say though, at least when I was a freshman, there were problems with finding a room on Friday/Saturday... maybe my roommate just didn't know how to share.

Lastly, In fairness, I'm neither a cog in the Office of Communications, nor the fictional Communications Department. I am nobody's cog. I can say whatever I want! Watch: Krislov smells!

Posted by: John on December 10, 2008 4:42 PM

I'm an alum (class of '92), and my classmates & I all used (& still use) Obie with affection. Perhaps it's just a generational dinosaur.

Do they still call the directory "Fussers"? That was a dinosaur when we were there, but we embraced it...

Posted by: Jason Mittell on December 10, 2008 9:58 PM

Alas, according to the copy on my desk it seems that "fussers" has degenerated into "Oberlin 2008-2009 Addendum and Student Directory."

Plain. Exact. Efficient. I'd be down to bring back "Fussers."

And while we're talking about Oberlin short-hand, am I the only one who tries to avoid calling the conservatory complex "the con"? Surely those four other syllables aren't too taxing, especially since "con," unlike Obie, is an actual word. (Although I guess I do like the idea that after I graduate I'll be an ex-con...nie. ha ha ha ho ho ho.)

(also, john, great recital! It was a lot of fun and I'm glad it was so well-received.)

Posted by: Will on December 10, 2008 11:47 PM

Ah, but Will, it was never officially called "Fussers." Fussers was always an underground term that everyone used. Sort of like, um, "the Con."

Wild that this is the thread that's generated the most comments so far.

Posted by: David Walker on December 10, 2008 11:56 PM

We still call it Fussers at the Review, and we crack it open constantly to fact-check names and class years. Also, "Obie" is pretty damn useful when you're writing headlines at 2 a.m. Thursday night.

Other favorite terms:
Keeple (people who live and eat in Keep Co-op)
Failure to Launch (graduates who hang around, often for years)
Sci Li (science library)
Broberlin (Woodland St., where all the bros live)


Posted by: Alice on December 11, 2008 2:50 AM

Ooo, I haven't heard Keeple, but I rather like it. I nearly forgot to mention that Harkness seems to be a rather potent generator of nicknames: "Sharkness," "Harkie," etc.

I've heard of Stuffers too, though I had no idea what that was about...

It's good that you guys check names at The Review. We don't at The Grape, which is why we're known for our journalistic ethics.

Posted by: John on December 11, 2008 12:25 PM

Apparently "Fussers" is derived from "fussing," an archaic term for dating.

Posted by: David Walker on December 11, 2008 1:23 PM

I'm surprised no one's mentioned Stevie...

Posted by: Eli on December 13, 2008 6:46 PM

I definitely call those directories Fussers...crazy to know where that comes from, David! How archaic exactly is the term "fussing"?

Some of my favorite Oberlin slang words are "E-Lo" for East Lorain Street and "So Pro" for South Professor Street, i.e. "There's a party on So Pro tonight." Those didn't make their way into my radar till last year, but I'm all about it.

Also...Quarter Beers no longer costing a quarter is such a damn shame. I personally prefer the name "Two Quarter Beers" to Kennedy Beers, for nostalgia's sake I guess.

& I also avoid uttering the word "Obies" at all costs. I'm much more inclined to say "Oberlin kids," even when talking to folks outside the bubble.

Posted by: Hannah on December 15, 2008 1:39 AM

On "fussing":


Posted by: Prof. David Walker '72 on December 15, 2008 10:37 AM

Gotta side with the previous commenter. We alumni use the word "Obie" quite often. Once you leave, you might have more affection for it.

Posted by: Wendy on December 18, 2008 3:32 PM

Obie sounds cute but I guess Oberliner is much better. Thank you for the post.

Posted by: Anonymous on September 14, 2009 4:21 AM

5th gen grad here. My folks were married in Fairchild Chapel (followed by a reception in their Daub House apartment). Beautiful pipe organs in Fairchild Chapel. It *is* special to many. Never heard anything called “Fairkid” during my time on campus, but perhaps that was known among the OSCA crowd.

Posted by: Daniel I. Ford on May 5, 2021 8:39 PM

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