Saturday, October 17, 2015

59: Alma Mater matters, or filthy acronyms

The final collegiate urban legend in this scene in The Billionth Monkey—I tried to work in as many as I could!—is a particularly persistent one about how the names of various institutions of higher education (or their sports teams) form unfortunate acronyms. The best known of these concerns Furman University,  a private school in Greenville, South Carolina. According to legend, its sports team and mascot was originally called the Christian Knights. However, once the school realized that the acronym for Furman University Christian Knights was inappropriate—at least for a Christian university—they purportedly changed the name and mascot to the less offensive “Paladin.” While it’s true that the university’s sports team has been called the Furman Paladins  since 1961, the term “Furman University Christian Knights” has never been used at the school.

Various other examples (all false) exist in the annals of urban legend:
Along these same lines, I made up the Sacred Heart Institute of Theology, thinking it would be funny for Nicholas Young to attend a theological college. I also made up the Wyoming University for Social Sciences, which turns up later in the book (p. 87). In The Billionth Monkey, Belanger can’t figure out why someone would go to the trouble to fake their college transcript yet give themselves such poor grades. While I don’t come out and say it, the implication is that these storied institutions somehow became real…and Nicholas Young attended them, receiving predictably lousy grades.

I had fun making up a seal for the urban-legendary Friends University of Central Kentucky
—including some Latin verbs that suggest less noble English terms—
though I never found a way to use it in conjunction with The Billionth Monkey.
Legends like these are well-known enough that The Simpsons featured the Springfield Heights Institute of Technology in its episodes “Much Apu about Nothing” (episode 151, airdate May 5, 1996) and “Simpsorama” (episode 558, airdate November 9, 2014).

Occasionally, these urban legends become true in places other than novels and cartoons. Take the case of Wakefield High School, whose T-shirts and hoodies for its track and field team garnered national attention in 2010. Evidently “Wakefield Track and Field” is an acronym among Kids These Days for something that, according to school superintendant Joan Landers, is not how she wanted the student body to be represented.

The controversial hoodie for Wakefield Track and Field. Image source: here.
And in a remarkable case of urban legend becoming real—a theme “central” to The BillionthMonkeyNewcastle University raised eyebrows in 2013 when it sought to trademark the acronyms CUNT (Central University of Newcastle upon Tyne) and RUNT (Research University of Newcastle upon Tyne). A university spokesperson explained that they took this step in order to “help students who may be searching for us on the web, particularly international students.” Or is that supernatural students?

For Further Reading
Anonymous, “The Knight Before,” October 12, 2013,


  1. There's no College of the University of North Texas, but there ought to be.

    And then there are sports teams, like the RISD Nads ("Go Nads!"). And as a former Michigander, you may recall the radio station WWWW had a softball team called the W4 Skins.

    1. Those are all excellent! I especially like the redundancy of "the College of the University of North Texas." To be extra redundant, it could even be "the College of the University of North Texas Schools."

      I haven't thought about W4 in a loooong time, wow that takes me back!

  2. This just in (4/5/16): George Mason University renamed its law school to the "Antonin Scalia School of Law" or ASSoL. Once it realized the acronym was inappropriate, it tweaked the school's name.


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