In retrospect, we should be shocked the terms freshman, sophomore, junior and senior survived this long.
According to Merriam-Webster, the traditional nomenclature for high school or university student rankings dates back to at least the 17th century. Randle Holme, in a 1688 volume, describes the etymology behind each term.
Freshman speaks for itself: “Brother Begger … because thou art yet but a mere freshman in our Colledge, I charge thee to hang thine eares to my lips, and to learne the orders of our house,” wrote Thomas Dekker in 1608. Sophomore is actually more insulting, believe it or not: It’s a combination of the Greek terms sophistēs (wisdom or learning) with mōros (“foolish,” also the etymological root of “moron”).
“For the third-year students, junior sophister (or junior soph) was used,” Merriam-Webster noted. “Finally, the fourth-year students were called senior sophisters.”
In the newly woke world, “freshmen” has already come under fire. “Sophomore,” surprisingly, hasn’t seen that much invective — partially because one suspects the kind of people who would campaign to have it changed don’t know the etymology and partially because they might find that the shoe fits all too well.
Junior and senior might seem like the most harmless of the bunch — and yet, at Penn State University, they’re going by the wayside because the student senate seems gripped with an acute case of mōros.
The change was part of an omnibus resolution titled AD84, according to a May 5 report in the Penn State Daily Collegian.
There’s some of the standard-issue stuff in here that isn’t even worth griping over in 2021 because this particular brand of mōros is so widespread; the proposition, introduced April 27, replaced “he/him/his and she/her/hers with they/them/theirs or … non-gendered terms such as student, faculty member, staff member, etc.”
Then things got dodgier.
“The University, as with most all academic institutions world-wide, has grown out of a typically male-centered world,” the student Senate’s introduction to Appendix C of AD84 began.
“As such, many terms in our lexicon carry a strong, male-centric, binary character to them. Terms such as ‘freshmen’ are decidedly male-specific, while terms such as ‘upperclassmen’ can be interpreted as both sexist and classist. Terms such as ‘junior’ and ‘senior’ are parallel to western male father-son naming conventions, and much of our written documentation uses he/she pronouns.”
Again: A well-deserved fusillade on the ableist origins of “sophomore” is nowhere to be found. At the very least, considering the mōroses that cobbled this together, you would think identity politics would at least compel them to fight the good fight here. Alas.
The recommendations in AD84 involved replacing “freshman/sophomore/junior/senior with first-year (1st-year), second-year (2nd-year), third-year (3rd-year), fourth-year (4th-year), and beyond.”
Furthermore: “Concerns have been raised that numbering years beyond the fourth (4th) would perhaps negatively reflect on students who, for various reasons, are taking longer to complete their (typically) four-year programs, and are also referred to as ‘super-seniors’. In this case, the term does often carry a slightly negative connotation. Students in such situations beyond the fourth (4th) year could instead be referred to as ‘advanced-standing’ students.
Finally, it would “[r]eplace ‘underclassmen’ and ‘upperclassmen’ with ‘lower division’ and ‘upper division.'”
According to Blaze News, this omnibus farrago of ill-researched wokeness passed easily and, according to them, now means Penn State no longer has freshmen, juniors, seniors and even those execrable sophomores.
I know the tendency of any thinking person is to take up pitchforks against these Gen Z’ers and lament how they’ve ruined a taxpayer-funded institution. Before you get your torches ready and decide to storm State College, Pennsylvania, I’d like you to consider a few things.
Before the Penn State story caught my eye, I was vaguely aware of the etymology of sophomore. Two minutes of googling got me the etymology of every term used to denote students in a four-year academic program. The same search engine is available to every Penn State student who had a hand in writing AD84. Indeed, it’s available to most everyone who isn’t residing in the People’s Republic of China.
One of the stronger arguments in favor of eliminating the terminology would be the word sophomore. Even without taking into account the Greek root, “sophomoric” means stupid. If they’re so worried about the retrograde nature of the four-year class system, it doesn’t take much effort to point that out. Nor would it take much thought to realize that calling “super-seniors” “advanced-standing” students instead removes none of the stigma but merely shuffles some linguistic deck chairs.
Instead, we heard nothing of the sort. All the student Senate at Penn State was concerned about was ensuring that a junior sophister (or thinker) wasn’t subjected to the patriarchal shame of being considered less than a senior sophister. It’s almost as if the progenitors of AD84 didn’t think this through on their own — like it was received wisdom, passed down to them from teachers and professors.
Thus, don’t place all of the blame upon the students. Instead, look at those who “charge thee to hang thine eares to my lips, and to learne the orders of our house.” Their pupils have learned the orders of the house — and judging by what student loan debt is these days, have they ever been charged.
This article appeared originally on The Western Journal.