Wooden spoon (award)

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The last wooden spoon

A wooden spoon is a mock or real award, usually given to an individual or team which has come last in a competition, but sometimes also to runners-up. Examples range from the academic to sporting and more frivolous events. The term is of British origin and has spread to other Commonwealth countries.

Wooden spoon at the University of Cambridge[edit]

The wooden spoon was presented originally at the University of Cambridge as a kind of booby prize awarded by the students to the man who achieved the lowest exam marks but still earned a third-class degree (a junior optime) in the Mathematical Tripos.[1] The term "wooden spoon" or simply "the spoon" was also applied to the recipient,[2] and the prize became quite notorious:

And while he lives, he wields the boasted prize
Whose value all can feel, the weak, the wise;
Displays in triumph his distinguish'd boon,
The solid honours of the Wooden Spoon

—"The Wooden Spoon" from The Cambridge Tart (1823)[3]

The spoons themselves, actually made of wood, grew larger, and in latter years measured up to 1.5 metres long. By tradition, they were dangled in a teasing way from the upstairs balcony in the Senate House, in front of the recipient as he came before the Vice-Chancellor to receive his degree, at least until 1875 when the practice was specifically banned by the University.[4][5]

The lowest placed students earning a second-class (senior optime) or first-class degree (wrangler) were sometimes known as the "silver spoon" and "golden spoon" respectively.[2] In contrast, the highest-scoring male student was named the "senior wrangler". Students unfortunate enough to place below the wooden spoon, by achieving only an Ordinary degree, were given a variety of names depending on their number.[6] In the 1860s about three-quarters of the roughly 400 candidates did not score enough to be awarded honours, and were known as poll men.[7]

The custom dates back at least to the late 18th century, being recorded in 1803,[5] and continued until 1909.[8] From 1910 onwards the results have been given in alphabetical rather than score order, and so it is now impossible to tell who has come last, unless there is only one person in the lowest class.[5]

The last wooden spoon[edit]

The last wooden spoon was awarded to Cuthbert Lempriere Holthouse, an oarsman of the Lady Margaret Boat Club of St. John's College, Cambridge, in 1909 at the graduation ceremony in the University's Senate House. The handle is shaped like an oar and inscribed with an epigram in Greek which may be translated as follows:

In Honours Mathematical
This is the very last of all
The Wooden Spoons which you see here
O you who see it, shed a tear

Alternatively:

This wooden object is the last souvenir of the competitive examinations in mathematics. Look upon it, and weep.

The last spoon to be awarded is now in the possession of St. John's College, and another is kept at Selwyn College library. From June 8, 2009 to June 26, 2009, St. John's College held an exhibition of the five surviving wooden spoons in College hands, from St. John's (the last one, dating from 1909), Selwyn's (1906),[4] Emmanuel's (1889) and Corpus Christi's (1895 and 1907) in its library to mark the centenary of the "awarding" of the last spoon of all.[9] There are five known wooden spoons in private hands, one of which was donated to the Fellows' Room at Corpus Christi.[5]

The wooden spoon in sport[edit]

Rugby union [edit]

How the Cambridge wooden spoon idea came to be used in rugby union is not exactly known, but in the early years of what is now the Six Nations Championship there were many Cambridge graduates playing, so they may have attempted to preserve the concept after the last one was awarded in 1909. It is certain, in any case, that the tradition first arose in Cambridge and rugby adopted and perpetuated the tradition. In 1894 the South Wales Daily Post remarked that within the Home Nations Championships the 'Ireland-Wales match has been to decide which team should be recipient of the ignominious Wooden Spoon';[10] one of the earliest mentions of the term within rugby union.

Australian and New Zealand sports[edit]

The term is commonly used in Australian and New Zealand sporting competitions, most notably in the major Australian rules, soccer and rugby football leagues (such as the AFL, the A-League, NRL, Super Rugby and ITM Cup) and refer to the club positioned last on the league table at the end of the season.

AFL Wooden Spoons[edit]

National Rugby League[edit]

Big Bash League[edit]

The Sydney Thunder have won the wooden spoon in each of the three Big Bash League seasons it has competed in since the league launched in 2011–12.[11][12]

Tennis[edit]

A wooden spoon, also known as the "anti-slam", is sometimes spoken about in tennis. It is said to be won by the player who is defeated in the first round by a player who is defeated in the second round, and so forth, until the final of a given tournament.[13][14]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Grose, Francis (1811). Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue. Entry: "Wranglers". Retrieved 2013-05-26. 
  2. ^ a b A Brace of Cantabs. (pseudonym) (1824). Gradus ad Cantabrigiam. J. Hearne. 
  3. ^ Socius (1823). The Cambridge Tart. London: Smith. p. 98. 
  4. ^ a b Stephen J. Cowley. "Cambridge Mathematical Tripos: Wooden Spoons". Retrieved 2009-07-27. 
  5. ^ a b c d Jonathan Holmes (1998). "Queens' College Cambridge: 'A Queens' Wooden Spoon'". Retrieved 2009-07-27. 
  6. ^ Socius (1823). The Cambridge Tart. London: Smith. p. 284. 
  7. ^ Galton, Francis (1869). Hereditary Genius-An Enquiry into its Laws and Consequences. p. 17. 
  8. ^ "University of Cambridge Exhibitions: "In honours mathematical, the very last of all: Cambridge Wooden Spoons"". May 27, 2009. Retrieved 2009-07-27. 
  9. ^ http://www.joh.cam.ac.uk/cms_misc/media/library/spoonsbooklet.pdf
  10. ^ Godwin, Terry (1984). The International Rugby Championship 1883–1893. Willow Books. ISBN 0-00-218060-X. 
  11. ^ Jacques Kallis targeted to help Sydney Thunder rumble in the Big Bash League, Sydney Morning Herald, 1 April 2014
  12. ^ Big Bash League 2012-13: From blunder to Thunder, ESPN Cricinfo, 11 April 2013
  13. ^ mikero.com - The tennis anti-grand-slam
  14. ^ Wooden-Spoon Theory Explained

External links[edit]

  • Japanese Students at Cambridge University in the Meiji Era, 1868–1912: Pioneers for the Modernization of Japan [1], by Noboru Koyama, translated by Ian Ruxton, (Lulu Press, September 2004, ISBN 1-4116-1256-6). This book contains detailed information regarding the Cambridge wooden spoon.