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#1
Old 12-01-2005, 12:24 AM
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Using the word 'alum' in place of alumnus/alumna?

During my upbringing, I learned that the terms alumnus, alumna, alumni, and alumnae were unique in that in the English language they retain the Latin suffixes related to gender and plurality.

'Alumnus' and 'alumna' are singlular masculine and feminine terms respespectively meaning a graduate or former student of a school, college, etc.

'Alumni' and 'Alumnae' are plural terms having the same meaning otherwise. 'Alumni' is used in the case of a mixed-gender group.

The above is definition is what I learned anyway.

I have heard the term 'alum' (sp?) in a couple formal speeches used in place of alumnus; one of those speeches was at a graduation ceremony. I kinda winced when I first heard this term. The second time I heard this term makes me begin to second guess what I was taught, but I looked up all four of the proper incarnations of alumnus and reassured myself that I was correctly taught. I can only guess on the spelling of 'alum' or 'alumn' as it were since I don't recall ever seeing it in writing.

So I ask my fellow Dopers: Is the term 'alum' commonly used? Is it more commonly used than alumnus and alumna? Do you think such usage would be acceptable in formal speech?

I personally would prefer to say that "I am an alumnus of <insert school name here>." YMMV
#2
Old 12-01-2005, 12:56 AM
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I think it's usually an informal thing. Or sometimes it might be because most people don't know Latin. I often hear people say "alumni" when referring to a single person, especially an alumna. So they just skip the debate and say "alum," which sounds gender-neutral.
#3
Old 12-01-2005, 01:12 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ArchitectChore
During my upbringing, I learned that the terms alumnus, alumna, alumni, and alumnae were unique in that in the English language they retain the Latin suffixes related to gender and plurality.
I'm not so sure about the "unique" claim. I've heard the similarly formed terms beatus/beati and beata/beatae in Catholic usage to describe singular and plural males and females who have been beatified e.g. Blessed John has been beatified, not canonised. He's a beatus, not a saint.
#4
Old 12-01-2005, 02:16 AM
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We interrupt this broadcast for a special announcement ...

When I saw the thread title (and I'm not trying to be a smart-ass here) I couldn't help but think in terms of my own profession where alum doesn't refer to alumnus but rather is a shortened form for aluminum sulfate (and before I get ganged upon I will qualify that as being the hydrated form of the salt) used in water treatment plants.

Now back to your regularly scvheduled program.
#5
Old 12-01-2005, 02:30 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Waterman
When I saw the thread title (and I'm not trying to be a smart-ass here) I couldn't help but think in terms of my own profession where alum doesn't refer to alumnus but rather is a shortened form for aluminum sulfate (and before I get ganged upon I will qualify that as being the hydrated form of the salt) used in water treatment plants.
I thought of that stuff, too - because I saw it in Looney Tunes and it always confused me why it made Sylvester's mouth shrink.
#6
Old 12-01-2005, 03:09 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Marley23
I thought of that stuff, too - because I saw it in Looney Tunes and it always confused me why it made Sylvester's mouth shrink.
Ignoring the sodium or potassium component for a moment, alum is the salt produced (in a condensed description) from a weak base (aluminum hydroxide) and a strong acid (sulfuric acid) that is acidic enough to induce the same effect as lemon juice.
#7
Old 12-01-2005, 03:15 AM
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I have an Alum Block given me as a stocking stuffer last Xmas. It is an excellent post-shave astringent and can also be used as a pre-electric-shave treatment.
#8
Old 12-01-2005, 08:17 AM
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If we're sidetracking into professional musings, I'll often use "alum" as shorthand in writing clues (where shorthand is the rule of the game); for instance, in refering to an actor from a defunct show ("Laugh-In" alum Johnson, e.g.).
#9
Old 12-01-2005, 08:44 AM
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Back when I was in college, it was considered inappropriate to use "alum" to substitute for any form of the word. It was also considered inappropriate to use "frat" for "fraternity." They were both considered the lowest form of slang.

In the 30+ years since, both words have become much more accepted. I've seen banners made by colleges at official events saying "Welcome alums." Eventually, it will be an accepted synonym for "alumni," especially since you need a gender neutral version to refer to a mixed group of male and female alums (someone would probably object that "alumni" means males).
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#10
Old 12-01-2005, 10:20 AM
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I live in a big university town. They don't seem to be familiar with the different forms of the word, because there are license plate frames and bumper stickers saying "I'm an FSU alumni!" all over the place. No you're not, ya freakin' d'oh-head! There's only one of you. And you paid all that money to go there! Doesn't it behoove you to call yourself by the proper word?
#11
Old 12-01-2005, 12:14 PM
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I work at a college. "Alum" is okay if it is for something casual or social, such as goofy flyers that say things like "Calling all alums: don't miss the annual sock hop!" I am very strict though about always using the long form alumni/alumnus etc for anything formal, like written records, press releases, awards and recognitions.
#12
Old 12-01-2005, 12:47 PM
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Alum, pronounced ah-LUM, is a common shortened form, like grad. The two words almost mean the same. An alumnus (me, for example) can be an ex-student who did not graduate. All grads are alums, but not all alums are grads.
#13
Old 12-01-2005, 01:26 PM
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I also work at a college, in the division that includes the alumni office. I agree with delphica that "alum" has become acceptable in informal usage, and it's even starting to appear in more formal settings as well. I expect (and welcome) that "alum" will eventually be more common than "alumnus/alumna" -- it's much simpler to work with. The plural "alums" is sometimes used, but not as often since "alumni" works for a mixed group.
#14
Old 12-01-2005, 03:15 PM
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I wonder how long it'll be before we start seeing the plural 'alumnis'?

The decline of the old Latin endings may be due very much to the fact that the pronunciations change very confusingly depending on whether one is using the Anglicized Latin pronunciation of doctors, lawyers, and most scientists, or the "Italianate" pronunciation of classicists, historians, and Latin teachers.

Italianate pronunciation:
-------------------------------
Alumnus ( 'a-LOOMM-noos') - one male graduate
Alumna ('a-LOOM-nuh') - one female graduate
Alumni ('a-LOOM-nee') - two or more male or mixed gender graduates
Alumnae ('a-LOOM-eye') - two or more femal graduates

Anglicized pronunciation
------------------------------
alumni ('a-LUM-eye')
alumnae ('a-LUM-nee')

See that? Depending on how you pronounce Latin, the two plural words swap pronunciation, almost.
#15
Old 12-01-2005, 04:13 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by fishbicycle
I live in a big university town. They don't seem to be familiar with the different forms of the word, because there are license plate frames and bumper stickers saying "I'm an FSU alumni!" all over the place. No you're not, ya freakin' d'oh-head! There's only one of you. And you paid all that money to go there! Doesn't it behoove you to call yourself by the proper word?



I have no idea whether this F.S.U. Place is good or bad, but it amuses me to think that perhaps the people you see are actually paid by a rival university to give people a bad impression of F.S.U.

Unfortunately, I fear that might not be the case. Have them all thrown out and sent to the salt mines, I say. Ah, I just thought: does "F.S.U." stand for "Florida State University"? If so, perhaps these people could be thrown to the alligators. I am sure tourists (and others) would pay to watch.

Seriously, though, if they can't cope with “alumna” etc., then they would look less stupid if they would only stick to using “former student” or some other equivalent.


Celyn = Curmudgeonly old fogey today.
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