Notions (Winchester College)

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Notions are the specialised slang used, now or formerly, by pupils, known as men, at Winchester College.[1] A notion is defined as "any word, custom, person or place peculiarly known to Wykehamists".[1] The number of notions officially in use declines each year, with around 200 notions currently included in the official Notions book sent to New Men.

Some of the same words are used at other schools, in particular Eton and Charterhouse (e.g. both schools use "div", though with extended meanings), though there they are not referred to as "notions". A Wykehamist may however speak (e.g.) of "an Eton notion" or "an Oxford notion" in describing the vocabulary or traditions of another institution.

An example of a custom which is a notion is Morning Hills, when the whole school gets up early in the morning to meet on the top of St. Catherine's Hill, a nearby hill belonging to the college.[2]

A personal notion is a personal right or privilege. For example, it is a "notion" of the Prefect of Hall (head boy) to be carried into class in bed.

An academic notion is one with no significance except as a question to be asked at notions examinā.

A bad notion is a solecism: either a non-notional mode of speech or action where a notion is expected, or an attempt at a notion that misfires. A purported notion not accepted as historically authentic may be described as spurious.


Some notions are created by shortening phrases – for example, the Dons' Common Room Notice Board became Do Co Ro No Bo; other notions derive from Latin – for example, foricas (Latin for 'lavatory') was shortened to fo. Thus a pupil might comment, "It's fortunate that the Do Co Ro has its own fo." Abbreviations are often indicated by a colon, as in 18th-century handwriting, for example "Sen: Co: Prae:" (Senior Commoner Prefect); some end with a long vowel, indicated with a macron, for example "mathmā" and "examinā". There are slight differences of vocabulary between College (the mediaeval school "house" occupied by boys with scholarships)[3] and Commoners (boys not in College).[4]


Notions include:

  • Bogle (sometimes spelled bogwheel[5]): bicycle
  • Div: class or form[6]
  • Don: teacher
  • Do Co Ro: Don's Common Room[7]
  • Fo[ricas]: (Latin) lavatory[8]
  • Lob: to cry (short for lobster)[9]
  • Man: pupil (of any age)[10]
  • Mug: to work. Hence Mugging Hall, the room in every house (not including College) where work is done in Toys. Also, to bestow pains upon (something).[11] cf "to muzz" at Westminster School.[12]
  • Non licet: forbidden, un-Wykehamical. Hence Non Licet Gate beside Old Mill from Meads to College Walk, out of which pupils (according to legend) were expelled.[13]
  • Tégé (Commoner houses; pronounced "teejay") and pater (for Collegemen): a Middle Part (second year) man appointed to look after a Jun Man (the "protégé") or, in College, "filius".[14]
  • Toll: to run[15]
  • Toys: (Old French toise, fathom, formerly the width of a toys) the upright wooden stall with a seat and cupboard in the chamber or mugging hall where a man works and keeps his books. Hence, Toytime, evening homework or prep.[16] There is no connection with Toye's house.
  • Tunding: a beating given by a prefect "across the shoulders with a ground ash";[17] the practice of boy-government led to "the tunding row" of 1872 under headmaster George Ridding.[18]

Some notions acquired a folk etymology:

  • Scob, referring to a type of chest formerly used as a desk, exists in Middle English and is derived from Latin scabellum, French Escabeau;[19] but 19th-century notions books explain it as containing the sounds of "box" backwards.
  • Remedy (usually shortened to "rem", most notably in "half-rem"), meaning a day's holiday, is derived from Latin remedium, rest or refreshment, but was formerly thought to be derived from "remī day", quasi dies remissionis.[20]
  • Firk, to expel: Old English fercian; Middle English fferke.[21] A folk etymology gave rise to a legend that an expelled pupil had his clothes handed to him through the gate by Old Mill on a pitchfork (Latin furca).[21]

Notional names include "Classicus" (the junior man in the senior classics form)[22] and "Ecclesiasticus" (the senior man in the junior classics form).

Notions books[edit]

Notions are traditionally recorded in manuscript books for the use of new men. (A decision of the Head Master in 1876 lays down "1. That Prefects are to understand that they have no power to compel juniors to copy 'Notion-Books'. 2. That any Prefect infringing the above rule will be punished by the loss of his power.")

A page from a Notions book.
A page from Winchester College Notions, by Three Beetleites, 1901

Old examples, now in Wiccamica Room, include:

  • R. Gordon, Winchester College Notions Book (1842),
  • F. Fane, Winchester College Commoner Word Book (1843)
  • Thomson, Winchester College Commoner Word Book (c 1855)
  • J. A. Fort, Winchester College Commoner Word Book (1874)
  • A. L. Royds, Winchester College Commoner Word Book (1867)
  • Cripps, Winchester College Commoner Word Book (1868–72)

Printed versions are Wrench's Word Book and Three Beetleites: see Sources. The latter of these was long considered authoritative in Commoners.

The fullest College notions book is that by Stevens (Sources). This book is unusual in that it reflects the usages of the 1920s, when the author was at school, but appears to have been continually revised by the author from a scholarly point of view and typed out in the 1960s. It was edited by Christopher Stray and printed in 1998. Other manuscript books are those of Steadman (1955), Foster (c. 1969), Tabbush (1973–4) and Gay (1974). These were generally kept by whatever senior man was most interested in notions, and circulated shortly before Notions Examinā in each year. In the late 1980s this was formalized, and the custodian was known as "Keeper of the Notions and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Sutton Scotney".

A slim brochure, containing only the most basic notions in common use, is printed by P & G Wells and distributed to new men. In earlier times these were available for sale, but were confined to Commoner notions (as recorded in Three Beetleites) and never seen in College.

Notions tests[edit]

Notions examinā, or latterly just Notions (always plural), used to be an annual event in College, the scholars' house. It dates from the second half of the 19th century, when it appears to have been a formal and intimidating affair held in VIIth Chamber for College as a whole; similar events were held in Commoner houses. In 1872 there was a major scandal, known as the Tunding Row, when someone was beaten by the prefects for refusing to attend. The Warden imposed restrictions on the prefects' power to beat, and laid down that "What are called 'notions-exams' must exist no longer; that they were merely a disgraceful innovation of late years".[18] The custom crept back on a more informal basis, being held by each chamber individually: in 1942 the Prefect of Hall's Book refers to "the difficulty of providing food at notions examinā".

Traditionally it was held after the first two weeks of Short Half (the autumn term), and was designed to test new boys' familiarity with the manners and customs of the school. In the 1970s it was held on the Saturday evening when the clocks went back; latterly it was moved nearer the end of term. It marked the point at which the New Men (new entrants to College) traditionally became known as juniors or Jun: Men.

During the evening, the scholars would gather by chamber for a meal, cooked by its members. The earlier tradition (1970s) was that this was held in an upstairs chamber (dormitory), and that the younger boys wore pyjamas and dressing gowns, while the rest remained in normal daytime costume. From the late 1980s or early 1990s, fancy dress was introduced. Each chamber would have a costume theme and, a few weeks in advance, the prefect in charge of each chamber would allocate fictional characters to each member of the chamber, who was then expected to dress up as that character. Examples of themes include 'Harry Potter', 'James Bond', and 'The Greek Gods'. After the meal, there would be a notions test. This test consisted of a series of esoteric questions, the answers to which the first years were expected to have learnt earlier that afternoon. Most questions were humorous in nature and many referred to people and activities from the beginning of the 20th century. In the last few years of the custom, if a first year got a question wrong he would be liable to have the remnants of the meal thrown at him. After the test (which no-one could actually fail), all seventy Collegemen would gather in Chamber Court to sing songs peculiar to College.

The following questions are some of the more memorable:

  • Can you sing? All people that on earth do dwell (spoken).
  • Who is Jupiter? A notorious rascal of St. Cross, long since defunct, who has been a notion since time immemorial/immemorable. (Whichever form is used, all present loudly correct it to the other one.)
  • How many feathers are there in a clump? 7; 77; 777; 7777 &c. [until told to stop]
  • Which one is Moses? The one that's not Aaron.
  • What was found by the Coalhole in the Coalhole? 5000 tons of processed peas.
  • Who put the apple in the teapot? Somebody else.

If the Jun Man did not know the answer, the first three times he could answer "My pater told me but I forgot"; the fourth, fifth, and sixth times "My pater meant to tell me, but he forgot"; and three further times "My pater forgot to tell me". His pater (his mentor from the year above) would then be asked instead. It is said that, in the earlier and more serious (pre-war) form of notions examina, if the candidate failed to answer ten questions his pater was liable to be beaten.

Notions tests ceased being held annually in 2001.

The Pempe[edit]

The Pempe was formerly a practical joke perpetrated in Commoners. A junior boy was asked to obtain a book called "Pempe ton moron proteron" (send the fool further); each person he asked for it would refer him to someone else, often in a different house, until someone took pity on him. A similar joke, involving an "important letter" with the words "send the fool further", was practised in Ireland on April Fools' Day.

In College this was formalized as Pempe Sunday, held on the third Sunday of Short Half. Each new man was told to find a person with a given notional name and ask him for a Pempe. That person gave him a "half vessel" (piece of paper of prescribed dimensions), and sent him to someone else, also by his notional name, and so on. The penultimate person in the series (the College Matriarch) would write on the piece of paper the Greek sentence "πἐμπε πἐμπε τὸν μὥρον πρὀτερον", and the last person (the College Patriarch) would add the accents: the new man is expected to keep his Pempe throughout his school career. The College man Frank Buckland described his own Pempe experience of 1839:

So he sent me to another boy, who said he had lent his Pempe moron proteron, but he passed me on to a third, he on to a fourth: so I was running about all over the college till quite late, in a most terrible panic of mind, till at last a good-natured præfect said 'Construe it, you little fool.' I had never thought of this before. I saw it directly: Pempe (send) moron (a fool) proteron (further)."[23]

By tradition, a notions book may not define a "Pempe" except for calling it "A necessity for all new men".[24]


Epideixis is an event held only for Collegemen (i.e. not for Commoners) in VIIth chamber on the night before the first game of X's, the original purpose being as an exercise in cheer-leading for the game. It involves the Captain of X's asking a list of questions of the form "Who is the..." or "Who does..." (identifying people or groups of people by their notional names, or activities that they may have perpetrated). The relevant people then run into the centre of the chamber shouting "Co-o-o-llege!", prolonging the first syllable as much as possible. The last group to be called up is invariably "The Hot" (the scrum in the College X's team). It is still very much as it was, though the questions are now subject to a mild degree of censorship.


  1. ^ a b Lawson, 1901. p. 84 and passim
  2. ^ Lawson, 1901. pp. 55–57
  3. ^ Lawson, 1901. pp. 24–26
  4. ^ Lawson, 1901. p. 27
  5. ^ Found in this form in Eric Partridge's Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English as "Cambridge undergraduate slang 1924-40".
  6. ^ Lawson, 1901. p. 121
  7. ^ Lawson, 1901. p. 37
  8. ^ Lawson, 1901. p. 46
  9. ^ Lawson, 1901. p. 70
  10. ^ Lawson, 1901. p. 73
  11. ^ Lawson, 1901. p. 81
  12. ^ Partridge, Eric (2003). The Routledge Dictionary of Historical Slang. Routledge. p. 3479. ISBN 978-1-135-79542-9.
  13. ^ Lawson, 1901. p. 83
  14. ^ Lawson, 1901. p. 122
  15. ^ Lawson, 1901. p. 125
  16. ^ Lawson, 1901. pp. 126–127
  17. ^ Lawson, 1901. p. 129
  18. ^ a b Gwyn, 1982. (whole essay)
  19. ^ Lawson, 1901. p. 106
  20. ^ Lawson, 1901. p. 99
  21. ^ a b Lawson, 1901. p. 44
  22. ^ Lawson, 1901. p. 22
  23. ^ Bompas, George C. (1888). Life of Frank Buckland. Smith, Elder, & Co.
  24. ^ As for example Lawson, 1901. p. 90


  • Gwyn, Peter, "The Tunding Row", Winchester College: Sixth Centenary Essays ed. Custance, R., pp. 431–478: Oxford, 1982 ISBN 0-19-920103-X
  • Lawson, W.H., Hope, J.R. and Cripps, A.H.S., Winchester College Notions, by Three Beetleites: Winchester 1901
  • Stevens, Charles (ed. Stray, Christopher), Winchester Notions: The English Dialect of Winchester College: London 1998, ISBN 0-485-11525-5 (Hardback); London, 1999 ISBN 0-485-12138-7 (paperback)
  • Wrench, Robert George K., Winchester Word Book: a Collection of Past and Present Notions: Winchester 1891