September 05, 2006

Manchester mouse born from mountain

My postings on university names have elicited a flood of wonderful details about one naming history after another, many of them remarkably twisted.  I don't think I'm up to coping with the story of CCNY, or even the full tale of CSU, and I had planned to avoid the tangled Manchester history, but now a colleague at Manchester has supplied a sprightly narrative from the inside.  I have suppressed this colleague's name, in case the Manchester administration might seek revenge (tempers run high in such matters, egos are easily bruised, and memories are regrettably long).

My institution was for many years known interchangeably as "University of Manchester" and "Manchester University", thus illustrating one of the threads you have covered in Language Log.  Only when feeling very pompous and formal did it use its full title, "Victoria University of Manchester".  It had a sister/offshoot institution called, almost universally, "UMIST", which stood (or had once stood) for "University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology".  The relationship between them was complex and had changed several times in the course of the twentieth century.  In some respects UMIST was legally one faculty of Manchester University, in others a separate and thriving institution.  (I have not checked any of these details, which were confusing enough even when fresh in the memory.)  By the end of the millennium, UMIST had effectively become a wholly separate university.  Then a grand plan emerged to bring them together again as a single university in 2004, one of the largest in the UK, and - yes - with one of those resounding mission statements about world domination by 2015.  [AMZ note: 2015 figures very prominently in these Mission Statements, 2010 apparently being just too soon to achieve lofty goals.]  It was really quite a large-scale merger by British university standards.  But what to call the important new arrival?  It clearly had to have the words "University" and "Manchester" in it, but it could not be called "University of Manchester", lest UMIST people should feel that they had been absorbed by the larger partner.  Consultants were employed, meetings were held, questionnaires went out to all stakeholders (as they are called) in both institutions.  It all took a long time.  Eventually we in the "University of Manchester" learnt what our new name was to be:  it was "The University of Manchester".  We had gained a definite article.  Our "The" must always have initial caps (and its font, size, colour and spacing in logos and letterheads and posters and websites are minutely regulated).  It's a very definite article.

Yeah, I know, those of you who know me fairly well will have immediately figured out who my correspondent is.  I'm just trying to maintain plausible deniability.

Notice the "or once stood for".  It's like the Menlo Park research company SRI International; "SRI" DOESN'T STAND FOR ANYTHING, they say.  No Stanford in there, no way.  Like "A&M" in "Texas A&M University" DOESN'T STAND FOR ANYTHING.  There's no "Agricultural and Mechanical" in the name, absolutely not.  We have the legal documents.

zwicky at-sign csli period stanford period edu

Posted by Arnold Zwicky at September 5, 2006 06:09 PM