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.

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