Wednesday, June 23, 2010

2-4-6-8, Let's All Matriculate!


Alvina asked a seasonal question: what does matriculate mean? Originally, to matriculate meant to have your name inscribed in the register of a college or university; thereby, you were enrolled. An interesting example came from the Constantia Munda of 1617: “[They] quickly matriculated you in the schoole of vice.”

In some countries, it came to mean to pass a comprehensive exam at the end of a certain grade, allowing the student to move to the next level. At the core of the term is the Latin word for mother, though the original was probably a Greek word that meant a register or list. That word was close to a word that meant mother, so the two were blended by accident.

Metaphorically, a school was often compared to a mother who would train and form her children. The phrase Alma Mater (nourishing or bounteous mother) has become a cliché in referring to a school. The term tracks back to an honorific applied to several Roman goddesses.

A very strange use of the term matriculate occurred during Super Bowl VI. Hank Stram, coach of the Kansas City Chiefs, told his team, “Yeah, let's just keep matriculatin' the ball down the field, boys!" He seems to have meant consistently and steadily moving the ball toward the goalpost.

Available from McFarland & Co.: Word Parts Dictionary, 2nd edition


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