x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Connected to history by some unusual words

I especially like rolling words like pidge and plodge around my mouth. They mightn’t mean anything thrilling but they do bounce off the tongue beautifully.

Language often evolves to develop quirks native only to a particular place and often the way people speak can be a mystery to those from other quarters. You don’t realise it, but you unwittingly begin to use phrases that are indigenous to where you’re living. There are any number of words and terms that students use in Cambridge that I’d never heard of before, but it doesn’t take long to fall into the pattern of using them.

The buttery and servery, for instance, are the canteens within the college. They serve hot food at mealtimes and snacks in between. On the whole, I prefer the word buttery, which has a far cosier sound than canteen or mess. It evokes gloopy warmth and calories. Then there are the gyp rooms, small kitchens shared between a few students. They were so named because of the gyps who inhabited them – gyps were manservants who presumably waited upon the students in ye glorious olden days. Sadly, gyps are long gone, which means we must stop thinking longingly of our mothers, grit our teeth and do our own dishes.

At least we have bedders – the lovely, ever-cheerful housekeepers. They make our beds every day, clear out the bins, scrub up bathrooms and vacuum the rooms. One evening, I walked back to find that all my grocery shopping, four full Sainsbury’s plastic bags that had been left on the floor, had been neatly arranged on the shelves. It is immensely satisfying to hear your friends in other universities complain to you about having to clean their rooms. You then get the low and distasteful, but very enjoyable, pleasure of boasting about what gems your bedders are.

Less pleasant terms particular to the university are the ones related to work – exams are called tripos examinations, for the excellent and completely justifiable reason that in the past students used to write exams sitting on three-legged stools. A three-legged stool is called a tripos. Makes perfect sense.

My subjects, meanwhile, have the completely unintelligible titles of FAB, HOM and MIMS. The wonderful word FAB is a fancy name for Anatomy, and stands for Functional Architecture of the Body. HOM is the less exciting abbreviation for homeostatis and is essentially physiology. MIMS is short for Molecules in Medical Science, the renamed title for what used to be biochemistry. We do like to stand out, even in the most mundane matters. I suppose the term FAB is intended to whip up excitement in our jaded little hearts about the fabulousness of the human body.

I especially like rolling words like pidge and plodge around my mouth. Pidges are the pigeon holes in the mailroom. Plodge is the Porters’ Lodge, sort of the college reception room. They mightn’t mean anything thrilling but they do bounce off the tongue beautifully. These are all words which have been used for years and aren’t likely to be made redundant by text-speak or social media jargon. They somehow seem appropriate in the characterful, graceful architecture of the town. In an increasingly globalised, homogenous world, the old-world charm of a distinct way of speaking lends a humanising touch to life at uni.

The writer is an 18-year-old student at Cambridge who grew up in Dubai

artslife@thenational.ae