Oxford A-Z

A (hopefully) complete guide to all your Oxford slang!



Balls Oxford is famous for its balls, and we really recommend you attend one (or more!) during your time here. Somerville and Jesus have a combined summer ball every three years, however if you are unlucky enough to miss out on our one then you are welcome to attend many of the other college and society events! They run throughout the year (although the majority are in the summer) and vary in price. This website is updated regularly and is very useful for helping you to decide which ball to go to… after all we are spoiled for choice!

Battels Your termly bill from College, which can include rent, boat club subs etc.

Blue An award for competing in Varsity sports against Cambridge University. Sports differ as to whether they award full blues or half blues, and whether for only competing or for competing and achieving a certain standard.

Bod / Bodleian The main University research libraries found on Radcliffe Square and comprising the Old Bod, Radcliffe Camera (Rad Cam) and Weston Library.

Bod Card Your University ID card (student card). Used for entry into Somerville and libraries. It can be topped up online (see Epos) or at the bar to pay for discounted food and/or drinks in hall and the bar.

Bop A weird Oxford name for a party. These are often themed and usually people go all out with their fancy dress… at least in Somerville MCR.

Bumps The style of rowing race used in Oxford (and Cambridge) for Torpids and Summer Eights boat races. It usually involves one boat crashing into another (or into a tree) and always involves a lot of drinking (for the spectators, obviously!).

Bursary The College accounts and administrative offices.


Cherwell The river that runs under Magdalen Bridge and later joins the Isis. Good for punting.

Collections A type of undergraduate exam

Commoner You’re a commoner following Matriculation and before you graduate, unless you’re an organ or choral scholar. It’s mainly defined by the particular type of gown you have to wear to exams and when you dine in hall.

Crew Date A sports team or group go for a meal with another team/group (usually) from a different college. This generally involves a lot of drinking, sconcing, and often ends in a college bar or club.

Cuppers Inter-collegiate competitions for most sports. Varying degrees of experience are necessary and some even encourage complete novices.


Deans College Fellow and his/her team responsible for supervising the conduct and discipline of the students of the College. Being ‘deaned’ is to be sent to the dean (this usually isn’t a good thing).


Eights (Summer 8s) Four days of inter-collegiate bumps races for rowing in Trinity term. Worth watching (on the Saturday at least).

EPOS The online system used to pay you Battels and top up your Bod card. See here.

Exchange Dinners Formal dinners where we host members of another college at Somerville, then dine in their hall a week or so later. See here for more information.


Fellow Senior members of the college. There is at least one from each subject and they may be your senior tutor. All fellows sit on the governing body of college.

Fresher A first year (graduate or undergraduate) student of the college.

Freshers’ Fair An event held at the beginning of Michaelmas term each year, organised by the student union (OUSU) where new students can learn about and sign up for university societies. Worth going for the freebies. Also there is usually pizza.

Formal Hall At Somerville we call these Guest nights. A three course meal in Hall with a smart dress code. You have to book in advance (see Meal Booking System). The food is very good.


Governing Body The committee of Fellows that makes all the major decisions about running the college. The MCR President has a none-voting seat at GB meetings to raise issues which are important to graduates.

Gown Piece of loose black academic clothing worn for formal occasions (you will probably only wear this for matriculation and exams) and as part of subfusc.

Graduate Reading Rom (GRR)- Room exclusively for the use of grad students to study


Hall The Dining hall in College. Serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner on weekdays and brunch and dinner on weekends during term time. Out of term time there is usually lunch in hall.

Head of the River Winning crew or college in Torpids or Eights Week. Also the name of a nice pub.

High Table The raised table in Hall where Fellows dine. Stand up when they enter/exit Guest night dinners.

Hilary The second term of the Oxford academic year: January – March.


The Isis The name of the River Thames as it passes through Oxford (more specifically the bit between Folley Bridge and Iffley lock). It is where the majority of colleges have their Boathouses and is where Summer eights and Torpids takes place.


Junior Common Room Refers to both the undergraduate student body and the common room for undergraduates. Often abbreviated to ‘JCR’.

JT Jericho Tavern. Pub on Walton Street. Usually full of Somerville postgrads.



Lodge (Porters’ Lodge, Plodge) The first port of call, where you will pick up your keys and mail. The lodge contains notice boards, pigeonholes and is staffed by a team of Porters (see Porters).


Magdalen Pronounced ‘Maud-lin’. A college, a bridge, a tower and a street.

Matriculation The compulsory ceremony in the Sheldonian, held near the beginning of Michaelmas term in which you formally register as a member of the University. Subfusc is worn and the day often ends either at the pub or at one of the several bops organised by other colleges.

Margery Fry The name of the building where the MCR is. Conveniently located opposite the Terrace bar.

May Day It is tradition to stay up all night and watch Magdalen College Choir singing from the top of Magdalen College tower at 6am. There are lots of Morris dancers around as well. Worth doing at least once.

Middle Common Room MCR. Refers to both the graduate student body and the common room located in Margery Fry.

Michaelmas The first term in Oxford (October – December).


Nexus Your Oxford email account. It gives you an Oxford email address that you can access anywhere through your internet browser. Check it regularly as it’s the main way members of College and the University will contact with you.

Noughth Week 0th Week. The week before the week that term begins.


OUSU Oxford University Student Union, responsible for representing student views in the University and NUS.

Oxbridge Oxford and Cambridge Universities.

Oxonian Relating to Oxford, particularly the University of Oxford. From the Latin name for Oxford, Oxonia.

Oxmas Because terms are so short, Oxford students tend to celebrate Christmas in late November (the 25th to be exact).


Pennying Dropping a penny into someone’s drink whilst it is in their hand. There are lots of other rules which I’m sure no one really understands, but the end result is always the same. Usually done on crew dates.

Pidge Your pigeon hole in the Porters’ Lodge. Your post arrives here, check this regularly.

Porters The porters work at the Porters’ Lodge, direct visitors, sort mail, answer questions, and give out keys for college rooms. They should be your first port of call should you have any issues.

The Productivity Room Also known as the Room of Requirement. A room on the ground floor of Margery Fry used for all things productive/fun. Useful for practise presentations, dinner parties, or just working in the evenings. Can be booked by writing on the whiteboard on the door, though people may walk through to use the kitchen.

Principal Head of Somerville College. The heads of other Colleges can have other titles such as Provost.

Punting A punt is a flat-bottomed boat propelled by pushing a pole. Highly recommended for the rare sunny days in Trinity Term. There are several locations where you can rent punts such as Magdalen bridge or Cherwell Boathouse.


Quad Grass areas in the middle of most colleges. Most colleges don’t allow you to walk on this grass, but we are nice here in Somerville. Not to be confused with Quod – a nice restaurant on High Street.


Rad Cam The Radcliffe Camera, a landmark library on Radcliffe Square.

Rustication To rusticate is to leave the university for a set period of time. It’s either the decision of the individual student when personal reasons may be affecting their studies or the decision of college, if a student is performing badly.


Scout A member of the college house-keeping staff. If you don’t want to be disturbed leave your bin outside your door.

Sconcing Often done on Crew Dates alongside Pennying. “I sconce anyone who….”, said person then drinks.

Senior Common Room SCR. The collective body of Fellows, tutors and college officers.

SOLO The online library catalogue. When you attend your library induction you will be taught how to use SOLO to search for your subject specific texts.

Special Guest Night Held on the Friday of 5th and 6th week in each term. Similar to Guest night however there are table cloths, an extra course and a smarter dress code. You are only allowed two guests and booking usually fills up very quickly.

Stash Usually sports kit, but basically any kit associated with a particular team/club/society/committee. Everyone loves stash.

Sub Fusc (and Academic Dress) The formal clothing of the university. It is worn for formal occasions such as Matriculation ceremonies and exams. You also wear the gown for Formal Hall in some colleges (but not at Somerville!) The University definition of Sub Fusc is:

You should wear the appropriate gown, mortar board or soft-cap, and your preferred sub fusc from the following list:

1.    one of:

  • dark suit with dark socks, or
  • dark skirt with black tights or stockings, or
  • dark trousers with dark socks or dark hosiery

2.    dark coat if required
3.    black shoes
4.    plain white collared shirt or blouse
5.    white bow tie, black bow tie, black full-length tie, or black ribbon.

Mortar boards, bow tie/ribbon and gowns can be purchased from a number of shops in Oxford. You have plenty of time to purchase these before they are required (Matriculation is usually a couple of weeks in to term). Shepherd and Woodward (High Street), Ede & Ravenscroft (High St), and Walters and Co. (Turl Street) all provide Sub Fusc for similar prices, usually under £30, and they are very helpful for sorting out what gown you need (they have done this a lot!)

Supervisor An academic assigned to you by the University or by your department who is responsible for planning with you your course of study and for keeping an eye on your overall progress, as well as for giving supervision on different aspects of the course.


Terms Oxford has three terms: Michaelmas, Hilary and Trinity. Full term lasts eight weeks, numbered 1 to 8. Week 0 is for arrival, paperwork and (for undergrads) collections.

The Terrace Bar Somerville college bar. Selling alcoholic and soft drinks, paninis and snacks. We usually buy drinks and drink them in the MCR. On Sundays paninis are half price.

Torpids The intercollegiate bumps rowing competition in Hilary term.

Trashing This occurs when students finish their examinations. Their friends go to meet them as they leave their final exam and shower them in confetti and prosecco!

Trinity The third and final (summer) term in the Oxford academic year: April – June. Also the name of a college.

Tutorial Mostly for undergrads, in Oxford these tend to be one-on-one meetings with a tutor. They can also be called supervisions.

The TV room The sectioned off part of the MCR where the TV and games consoles are.


The Union The Oxford Union. A private members club and debating society. It has famous speakers and a cheap bar. It also organises various social events including themed balls which you can attend even if you’re not a member, but at a higher cost. Membership is very expensive but is cheaper if you sign up during the first few weeks of Michaelmas.


Vac Predominantly an undergrad term meaning ‘vacation’. Graduates tend to be here all year round but you will know when term ends due to the disappearance of undergrads and the appearance of tourists and international summer school students.

Varsity Refers to sport matches, debates etc. between Oxford and Cambridge University.

Viva Short for ‘Viva Voce’. Oral exam taken as part of a DPhil or if you are a borderline case in an assessment (pass/fail or pass/distinction).


Weeks Each term is divided into 8 weeks. Each week begins on a Sunday. The two weeks before are known as -1st and 0th week. The undergraduates usually arrive at the start of 0th week (noughth). Graduates are usually around all year and therefore rarely use the ‘week’ system.