Editor’s note: This column is offered a week before University of Michigan’s home football opener against Western Michigan University on Sept. 3 – as a public service to news outlets who are new to the UM football beat. It’s important to know how properly to shorten the university’s name. Nowadays, in most official communications the University of Michigan seems to use “U-M” as a shortened version of the full name. Here at The Chronicle, our preferred style is “UM” – we apparently don’t have a budget for extra hyphens. If we accidentally insert a hyphen, it wouldn’t be the end of the world. For heaven’s sake, though, there are alternatives that should absolutely be avoided – even people 100 years ago knew that.
The University of Michigan was once disgraced with a nickname so disreputable, so slangy and vulgar, that an essay was published protesting its use. Even a newspaper in another city ran a disapproving editorial.
That nickname was “U. of M.”
In the April 1903 issue of The Michigan Alumnus, a former grad fumed against “the continued and persistent use of the compromising appellation, ‘U. of M.’” He found it coarse – unworthy of a great university.
“In the first place it is not distinctive enough, as there are several other ‘U. of M.’s,’ Maine, Minnesota, and Missouri being the most conspicuous,” he began, going on to excoriate the sloppy abbreviation.
He was not alone.
If that contributor wished to banish the term, he was several decades too late. Students had created it in the 19th century, and weren’t about to abandon it.
The oldest citations for “U. of M.” appear in student-published campus newspapers, of which there have been over a dozen through the years. In one, the April 1879 edition of The Chronicle (a student publication from that era, not The Ann Arbor Chronicle), appears an article rebutting Depauw University’s student newspaper’s critique of the Ann Arbor school.
The Asbury Monthly seems to think that the University is to be outstripped by Wisconsin, because the latter institution has secured Prof. Watson. The fact is that, while we regret much the departure of our great astronomer, the U. of M. is too great a fact, her foundations are laid too strong and deep, and there are too many great men left here in charge to allow it to be suddenly ‘outstripped’ by a young institution.
The editorial used “U. of M.” twice.
Contemporaneous local city papers avoided the term, preferring more dignified phraseology. The April 2, 1879 Ann Arbor Register reported, “To the friends of the University, irrespective of party, the vote on Regents is gratifying …” In the same issue it stated, “A proposed game of foot ball to be played in Detroit by a senior fifteen and a University fifteen, is now being talked of.”
Charles Chapman in his 1881 “History of Washtenaw County” did not deign to use the term. Years later, Samuel Beakes in his “Past and Present of Washtenaw County” mentioned it exactly twice, but only to list a student publication whose name included the undignified moniker.
Students paid no heed. In the June 1883 student paper the Argonaut, the term appears again. “It is with the utmost confidence that we assert that the Senior invitations are the most elegant ever seen at the U. of M.,” adding, “Hay-making on the campus is not a success in this weather.” [For many decades, hay was grown and harvested on what is now the Diag area]. The Argonaut survived until 1890, and numerous instances of the hated appellation pepper its pages.
An out-of-town paper noticed the term, and found it a handy space-saver for headlines. “The U. of M.—Its Approaching Semi-Centennial to be a Great Event,” reported the Detroit Free Press on June 18, 1887. “U. of M. Beaten in the Great Foot Ball Game Yesterday at Chicago,” read a November 30, 1888 Free Press headline. The Free Press still used the more formal terms in the text of its stories.
That changed around the early 1890s. A March 3, 1892 story mentioned the one-year anniversary of “the U. of M. Oratorical Association.” Meanwhile, a new campus paper took things further. Emblazoned across the inaugural September 29, 1890 issue was the masthead “U. of M. Daily” in a big, craggy font. The paper would survive to become today’s Michigan Daily.
City newspapers were holding the fort against the offending abbreviation. As an example, the January 3, 1890 Ann Arbor Argus story reported, “The Yale catalogue just published shows 1,477 students in attendance there. Yale is only about 700 students behind Michigan University …” However, later that year, cracks began to show in the foundation as the slang term crept into use. One November 6, 1890 Argus blurb said, “The [student paper] Chronicle-Argonaut is desirous of stirring up the poetic muse in the U. of M.”
A neighboring newspaper, the Ypsilantian, took a dim view of these developments. “The use of the mutilation ‘U. of M.,’ for ‘University,’ has nothing under the sun to recommend it,” reads an October 13, 1892 editorial. “It is an abbreviation that does not abbreviate, a contraction that does not contract, and can be classed only as a mutilation. In print it is scarcely shorter, and in speech it is decidedly more clumsy to utter and wanting in euphony to the ear.”
The article continued, “‘The University’ expresses to everybody here fully and exactly what is meant; and in other parts of the country where it would be necessary to say ‘University of Michigan,’ the mutilation ‘U. of M.’ would not be understood. We are surprised that it should find place in the columns of any newspaper.”
The term that offended local editors and alumni was by then so commonplace to students that it wasn’t even considered slang anymore – or so it’s suggested by a survey of UM student slang.
Students in an 1895 fall semester rhetoric course were asked to collect examples of slang they used. Over 600 terms were submitted. In the following spring semester, students voted on which terms were genuine slang and which could be crossed off the list as just ordinary words.
The resulting list of 446 slang terms and their definitions was published in three parts in the November and December, 1895 and the January, 1896 issues of the Inlander, a campus literary magazine.
“Hen-medic” was a female medical student. “Freshlet” meant a young freshman, and “moke” a fool. “Flops” denoted a saucer of ice cream and strawberries. “Squatchetery” meant “admirable, pleasing: ‘Your new gown is decidedly squatchetery.’” “Varsity” was defined as “from [the word] University.” A laggard might be called an “ice-wagon.”: “A student calls to a companion for whom he is waiting, ‘Come, don’t be an ice-wagon.’” “Lunch hooks” were teeth, and to “feed one chunks” meant to fib, as in “Do you think I believe you? You are feeding me chunks.”
The term “U. of M.” appears nowhere in the long list.
Meanwhile, townspeople were adopting the term. A Mrs. Trojanowski opened her “U. of M. Toilet Parlors” at 32 South State Street. Paul Meyer ran the “U. of M. News Depot” at 46 East Williams. It was a year after “Levy’s U. of M. Shoe Shop” opened that the alumnus magazine burst forth with its aforementioned scathing 1903 editorial.
That writer seethed against the use of the term. “But fostered as it is by the U. of M. Daily and all the ‘esteemed’ metropolitan papers of Detroit, there is small hope of betterment until an adverse sentiment is created and the students shall boycott all ‘U. of M.’ concerns and insist on the use of the name, University of Michigan, or the permissible abbreviation, Michigan, in the papers to which they subscribe.”
He wrote, “[W]ith the ‘U. of M. Barber Shop,’ the ‘U. of M. News Stand,’ the ‘U. of M. Lunch Room,’ the ‘U. of M. This,’ and ‘U. of M. That,’ the student is disgusted and chagrined to have this cheapened and unworthy title applied to his Alma Mater.”
Nonetheless, a few years later the U. of M. Restaurant joined the throng. The U. of M. Toilet Parlor, now the U. of M. Barber Shop, advertised its services as “Strictly Sanitary Shaving Parlors and Bath Rooms, Olive Oil, Crude Oil, and Mange Shampooing our Specialty.”
One wonders what that alum would think to see the modern ubiquity of the nickname he so despised.
Thanks to Ann Arbor historian Wystan Stevens for information about the U. of M. Daily.
In the previous column, cmadler, Dave, TJ, and Irene all correctly guessed that the object in question was a mustache cup, which “kept the man’s mustache from getting hot liquids onto it, which would melt his mustache wax,” as Dave remarked.
This week, in keeping with the University theme, our Mystery Artifact is one related to a onetime campus ritual.
In this photo from an issue of the Michiganensian, you can see a student grasping this large item, but why? It’s not a tree, and ignore the letter B in the background.
What’s going on here?
Take your best guess!
Laura Bien is the author of “Tales from the Ypsilanti Archives.” Her second book, “Hidden History of Ypsilanti,” will be published this fall. Reach her at email@example.com.
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