22 April 2024

Oxford Terms

Many people will know that Oxford has three terms (Michaelmas; Hilary; Trinity); each of them contains eight weeks of "Full Term", in which undergraduates are expected to be resident. Each week is a Sunday-Saturday week, and is known as First week ... etc.. Increasingly, Colleges expect undergraduates to come back before First Week so as to get geared up and write Collection Papers to prove that they did their Vacation reading; and such a week has come to be called Noughth Week (I apologise to mathematicians). Technically, the terms are rather longer than that, but Full Term is what matters for most practical purposes. So the Trinity Term this year began technically on Monday April 22 and ends Monday July 8; but, within that, Full Term is the eight weeks from Sunday April 21 until Saturday June 15.

But, historically, things were much more complicated (and what follows is actually a simplification). The old Latin Statutes knew of two summer terms. There was the Easter Term: Easter Wednesday until the Friday before Pentecost; and then the Trinity or "Act" Term, the Saturday before Pentecost until the Saturday following the first Tuesday in July. This year, April 3 until May 17; and then May 18 until Saturday 6 July. Hope I've got that right ... I probably haven't ...

"Act Term"? During the dark days of popish ecclesiastical tyranny, and even through the oppressions of those absolutist early Stuarts, the University Act was a celebration with many ingredients but, particularly, marked by outrageously satirical attacks upon the Mighty in Academe, Church and State: presided over by an individual called Terrae Filius [the Son of the Earth].

ITW At one particular Act during the reign of Bloody Bess, Terrae Filius found himself ignored. During the night, Someone had placed, on all the seats, newly, secretly, printed copies of the Decem Rationes of S Edmund Campion, which, in the spirit of the day, was full of witticisms directed against the 'Reformers' ... recycling, for example, the rather Private Eye joke about John Calvin having been (physically) branded because he was a homosexual. Everybody was fingering their way through those volumes and sniggering in a way quite disgracefully subversive of Godly Discipline.

ITW Fun, however, doesn't last. "Find out how the Young are enjoying themselves, and put a stop to it". So, following the liberties mercifully secured to us by the Glorious Revolution, enhanced in the fulness of time by the Splendid Enlightenment, the Act became an occasion increasingly dangerous to the Powers that Be (the Convocations of the clergy of Canterbury and York were also suppressed around this time because of the irresponsibility of the Inferior Clergy) with the result that the Act was tamed, emasculated, and made very respectable: in this state it now survives as Encaenia [Commencement], the annual Latin Ceremony (Wednesday after Eighth Week) when Honorary Degrees are conferred upon distinguished visitors ... er ... who mostly seem to be North Americans ... is there a Yankie dialect term for "the Great and the Good"?


Romulus said...

"Big Shots."

frjustin said...

In the 19th century,"great shot" was being used across the Pond in the same sense as "big shot": "The great 'shots' of Stanz parade the town with their prizes in their hats…."— George Meredith, in a letter dated 9 July 1861.

Movers and shakers? VIPs?

Oliver Nicholson said...

"Movers and shakers" was originally meant (by the poet/ herpetologist O'Shaughnessy, backed by Elgar) to mean poets and dreamers not investment bankers and other practitioners of telegrams and anger.

PM said...

Dare one even mention that modern exercise on toadyism, the Court of Benefactors?

Retired Judge said...

Retired Judge

(1) The higher courts still have two terms in the spring/summer, Easter and Trinity, separated by a short vacation.

(2) In Durham, where I taught from 1966 to 1969, the winter term is unusually (perhaps uniquely?) Epiphany Term.

(3) Until a few years ago judges of the Queen’s Bench Division had separate winter and summer robes, the changeover days being
Ascension Day and 28 October (SS Simon and Jude). The monks of the English Benedictine Congregation wear cowls in choir
between 28 October and the following Ascension Day. A curious coincidence about which I know nothing more.

frjustin said...

Dear Retired Judge, That association between judicial robes and monastic cowls is quite striking. It may be a strictly local custom, since the wearing of cowls in winter has always varied considerably, depending on the climate.

A common Benedictine practice was to wear the cowl "de Cruce ad Crucem"; i.e. from Holy Cross Day on September 14 to what the Prayer Book calls the "Invention" [Finding] of the Cross on May 3.