The Cambridge (Tab’s) Dictionary of bizarre lingo used only at Cambridge
All the oddly specific terminology you need to survive here x
If you’ve clicked on this article you’re either an incoming fresher hoping to make sense of all the gibberish you’ve been seeing on various student-run Facebook pages, or you’re a returning student who’s been away from your beloved College for so long, you’re afraid nothing about it will make sense to you come October.
Either way, it’s no secret that Cambridge students have their own very peculiar way of expressing themselves. On the first day of a typical Freshers’ Week, one is suddenly ushered around by a bunch of older students talking about “pidges” and “plodges” and all sorts of unknown paraphernalia. Although at first many of us meet these strange (and horrible sounding) terms with resistance, it doesn’t take long for them to become part of our everyday vocabulary, as we drop them unthinkingly into conversations with friends from home, before having to backtrack and explain what the plodge we’re on about.
For the benefit of those brand new to Cambridge, as well as the boomers amongst us who still have no clue what “Grandma Groove” is, The Cambridge Tab has compiled an (un)official list of Cam-specific terminology to help you navigate your way through this crazy, one-of-a-kind university x
ARCSOC (prop n.) – ARCSOC is the university’s architecture society, but you’ll most likely hear it in reference to the notoriously “edgy” and highly anticipated clubbing events that the society hosts (usually twice a term). Fancy dress standards are extremely high and the chances of you stealing their decorations to put in your room are 100% – 10/10 would recommend.
ASNaC (n.) – This is an abbreviation of the course in “Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic” studies, but also refers to someone who’s (for some reason) chosen to study that course. ASNaCs are rather low in number at the university, but are in seemingly high demand, judging by the number of Crushbridge puns.
Backs (n.) – The home of countless aesthetic Cambridge Insta posts. Punting down the Backs is a true rite of passage for any Cambridge student (as is falling in). The term refers to the super pretty green area west of the river, so called because it backs onto the riverside colleges (Queens’, King’s, Trinity, John’s etc.).
BCD (n.) – “Boat Club Dinner” – or as I see it, a bunch of drunk people in black tie crowding into Spoons and dancing with far too much hip movement. College boat clubs hang this event over the heads of every rower all term as an incentive for all those early nights and 6 am starts. Is it worth it? I’ve got no idea.
Bedder (n.) – (Usually) super friendly college staff that clean your room, empty your bins etc. They’re great company and great for waking you up at unruly hours after a particularly heavy night out (which is not so great if you’ve decided to bring someone back 😬).
Blue (n.) – Someone who’s been awarded for involvement in a top university sport, such as Ultimate Frisbee.
Boatie (n.) – One who rows furiously for the college or university Boat Club, and whose personality is 99% rowing (the other 1% is complaining about rowing). They can often be seen wearing unfortunately designed all-in-ones and piling nine hash browns on their plates at College brunch in the name of ‘carb-loading’.
Bop (n.) – Often requiring fancy dress, Bops are College-wide discos, or “Big Organised Parties”, that serve as a hallmark of the typical Cambridge experience. The term, “Bop”, is one that, when used outside of Cambridge, will inevitably make you sound like a prat. Despite this, they’re usually great fun and promise to provide some of your most treasured, and most embarrassing memories from university.
Bridgemas (n.) – In true keen Cambridge spirit, we like to celebrate Christmas twice. Bridgemas day happens on 25th November, so you get the chance to eat a fancy Christmas dinner and go to a carol service for the free mulled wine, and do it all again come December.
Bumps (n.) – A rowing race that takes place in Lent and May over four days. Boats try to “bump” the crew in front of them and not get “bumped” by the boat behind them. A crew that bumps up each day is awarded “Blades”, whilst a crew that gets “bumped” each day is said to have got “Spoons”. Honestly, I don’t know what any of this means, just go to Wikipedia if you’re really that interested.
Buttery (n.) – Literally just a College bar which they insist on calling a “Buttery” because it sells food that nobody buys.
Camcard (n.) – a little plastic card with a picture of you on it that you are guaranteed to hate. You’ll probably lose it at least once and need a replacement, and you’ll lock yourself out by leaving it behind at least three times in the first week. A useful fact about Camcards is that the stripes in the top-right corner are your College colours (which may be obvious to some, but I genuinely didn’t clock this until a few months ago…)
Camdr (prop n.) – Cambridge’s own-brand Tindr which kept hopes of romance alive over lockdown. My personal experience with this goes as far as having my college wife make me an account “for the bants” and soon after sending an awkward and apologetic email asking to get it deleted. But I’d say it’s probably still worth giving a shot if you’re lonely enough.
Camdram (n.) – Here’s one for the “thesps” (people who live and breathe the théâtre). Those who fall into the world of Cambridge Theatre will have all their production credits listed on this website called Camdram. You can also use it to find vacancies for performance and production roles in student-run shows, and pretty soon you’ll be so sucked in that theatre is basically your degree.
Camfess (prop n.) – Definitely the best university confessions page out there – its infamous “Cambridge colleges as” lists are probably the primary resource you used to pick a college to apply to.
Cindies (prop n.) – One of Cambridge’s most popular (and only) nightclubs. It’s official name is ‘Ballare’ but anyone who’s not a “townie” (see below for definition) calls it Cindies. Other than disputes over its name, the most common controversy around this club is the heated “Wednesday Cindies” vs. “Friday Cindies” debate – i.e. Pop cheese vs. Hip hop/RnB. Either way, the second the clubs reopen you can expect the queue to stretch all the way to Girton and the smoking area networking to recommence.
College Family (n.) – The concept of a college family is super hard to explain to people outside of Cambridge, but it’s also one of the most wholesome things about it. In most colleges, Freshers are put into a family parented by two second-years, who will hopefully guide them through first year. The super fortunate among us are even able to get to know their college grandparents, uncles, aunts and the lot. (I personally haven’t seen my college mum since day three of Fresher’s Week but I’ll pretend that I’m not upset).
College stash (n.) – An overpriced piece of fabric (namely puffer jackets, sweatshirts, and now face masks) with your college crest on that makes you feel all kinds of comfy but you wouldn’t be caught dead in with your mates from back home.
Compsci (n.) – Pronounced “Comp-ski”, an abbreviation of the “Computer Science” course, and also refers to someone studying that course, a.k.a. the friend you will ask for help for literally any computer-related issue.
CRSid (n.) – To be honest I have no idea what the “CRS” stands for but it’s basically just a term for your student login/username. I was once told with absolute certainty that the numbers at the end of your CRSid tell you how many other people at Cambridge have had your initials over the years (and one person went on to brag that their number was lower than mine which is probably the pettiest flex ever) but having googled it for the purpose of this article, I know now that your CRSid is actually just “a combination of your initials and some random numbers”, so everything I thought I knew was a lie. Hope that irrelevant tangent helps.
C-Sunday (n.) – Formally known as “Caesarian Sunday” after the Jesus drinking society, this is an entire day in Easter Term dedicated to getting pissed on “Jesus Green” (literally just another Cambridge field) as a ceremonial final day of freedom before exam revision begins. It gets messy. Mistakes will be made.
Crushbridge (prop n.) – Another student-run Facebook page. A hub where massive simps can anonymously confess their love for strangers in “Mainsburys” (see below for definition) and where you will try, and try, and try another seven times, to surprise your mate with a secret submission. The Crushbridge will never get posted and you’ll convince yourself the admins hate you and that’s just the circle of Cambridge life, my friend.
Cuppers (n.) – College sporting tournament against Oxf*rd.
Dangerspoons (n.) – the grimmest most overcrowded night in Cambridge. “Dangerspoons” only happens on Fridays and Saturdays and the “danger” is the potential chance of running into “townies” (again, see below for definition). The queue is so ginormous that if you step outside you won’t have the faintest hope of making it back in. This exact thing happened to myself and my very drunk mates, leading to tragic results:
DoS (n.) – Your Director of Studies. They direct your studies. I don’t have much else to add, really.
Drinking soc (n.) – If you know, you know.
Engling (n.) – a student who studies English, a.k.a. the best people in Cambridge. That’s right, I said it.
Ents (n.) – I’ve witnessed many a disagreement over whether “Ents” means “Events” or “Entertainment”, but all that really matters is that they’re somewhat fun to attend, and depending on your college, might even be a better night out than going to the club (especially if it’s “Fez”, see below for definition).
Fez (prop n.) – A nightclub that unquestionably takes the prize for the sweatiest night in Cambridge. Seriously, don’t bring a jacket.
Fine (v.) – Usually issued at a “swap” (see below for definition), “Fines” are a huge part of Cambridge drinking culture, because NOTHING embarrassing you ever do will go unnoticed. It’s a bit like “Never Have I Ever” but in the format of “Fine if you’ve done x embarrassing thing”, so anyone who’s done that particular thing must stand up and drink. It gets very specific and targetting. Would not recommend.
Formal (n.) – A staple of the Cambridge-Hogwarts stereotype, Formals are evening dinners that give you the chance to get all dressed up, wear a gown, drink some port, and become a wizard.
Footlights (prop n.) – Famous alumni include Stephen Fry and Emma Thompson, but a typical Cambridge student might encounter the Footlights by attending one of their famous Smokers – a perfect event for laughing away the pains of everyday life.
Gardies (prop n.) – An extremely popular post-clubbing food-stop just off the side of Market Square. Every time you visit, you’ll ask to get a picture taken of you and your friends which will paint you in all your 4am tragicness, and chat to the wonderful Greta (who is so iconic she could probably have her own separate definition).
Grandma Groove (prop n.) – Tickets to this clubbing event sell out FAST. Grab em while you still can.
Gyp (n.) – Cambridge’s tiny (and usually ovenless) alternative to a kitchen.
Halfway Hall (n.) – a formal hall specifically for second years to commemorate making it through half their degree. This is when the feeling of old age starts to sink in for many of us.
HSPS (n.) – “Human, Social and Political Sciences”, occasionally pronounced “houss-puss”. You’ll be able to tell if a person does HSPS if you constantly hear them complaining about the number of essays they have, but never see them actually writing one.
JCR (n.) – This term can either refer to the “Junior Common Room” at your College where people tend to hang out and host pres, or the committee of people that deal with all things welfare and events. Super wholesome vibes all round.
Junction (prop n.) – A less-frequented club in Cambridge due to the fact it’s all the way up near the train station. Probably the only nice thing near Homerton (including Homerton itself).
June Event (n.) – a less extravagant but very cute alternative to a May Ball. At a June Event, you’ll hopefully remember more of the night than you would at a May Ball and maybe even jump into a ball pit or two.
Life (prop n.) – A Cambridge nightclub. Its actual name is “Vinyl” (formerly “Kuda”) but has always been solely referred to as Life. Home of the well-renowned “Sunday Life” and also “Glitterbomb”, Cambridge’s biggest LGBT+ club night, on Tuesdays.
Lola’s (prop n.)- The only nightclub in central Cambridge with multiple floors (so there’s even more at stake when you lose sight of your group of mates) and the only one with an indoor smoking area (that’s air-conditioned to arctic levels of cold. Bring several coats).
Mainsburys (prop n.) – The “main”/most frequented Sainsbury’s in Cambridge, just opposite Sidney. The most important thing to remember about this Sainsbury’s is that it CLOSES AT 5PM on Sundays. But when you inevitably forget to get alcohol before “Sunday Life” (See “Life” for reference), you’ll have to hit up either S’local, Far-away-nsburys, or Trainsburys, unless you’re at Medwards, in which case, you’ll just shop at Aldi.
Mathmo (n.) – Someone who studies Maths. If you ever meet one in real life, let me know.
May Ball/May Week (n.) – “May Week” happens at the end of Easter Term in celebration of the end of exams, in JUNE, not May (don’t ask because I don’t know). During May Week, you may attend one, or multiple “May Balls” which colleges spend extortionate amounts of money on, and if you do it the right way, you won’t actually remember attending them at all.
MCR (n.) – The equivalent of the JCR but for old people (Postgrads and Master’s students). MCR events are usually MUCH nicer and have a bigger budget than JCR events, but are famously impossible to infiltrate.
Moodle (prop n.) – the online database where your lecturer will tell you to find the lecture handout because they didn’t print enough. Is it bad that I’ve never actually gone and checked?
Natsci (n.) – Abbreviation of “Natural Sciences”, and also refers to anyone who studies it (i.e. 90% of the uni).
Orgasm Bridge (n.) – Not to be confused with The Bridge of Sighs (John’s) or the Mathematical Bridge (Yeah, there’s lots of bridges here. Who’d’ve thought?), Orgasm Bridge is named as such because of the sensation one supposedly feels cycling over it. I am personally unable to confirm or deny the existence of this sensation, as I am that unfortunate person whose rusty Gumtree bike can never make it to the top, and who must then awkwardly dismount and walk over.
Penny (v.) – Pennying usually happens at a “swap” (see definition below). You get “pennied” if someone drops a penny in your glass when you’re not holding it, and in this instance, you down your drink. There are many other rules involved that I can’t be bothered to explain. But it is important to remember that there’s also Engineer pennying (an Engineer somehow folds a penny and puts it in your bottle which you then have to down) and Dessert pennying/Five pennying (someone puts a 5p coin in your dessert so you have to eat the whole thing with no hands). Yeah, we’re a weird bunch.
Pidge (n.) – Refers to your “pigeon-hole” where you’ll find your mail and those great little society term cards that you’ll immediately bin.
Plodge (n.) – The “Porter’s Lodge”, where the “Porters” (see below for definition), lodge.
Porter (n.) – Legend.
Prelims (n.) – End of first year exams for those studying History, English, Classics, and ASNaC. They don’t count towards your degree. If you ever find yourself feeling stressed about Prelims, don’t.
Sent down (v.) – To get “sent down” is to be expelled from Cambridge. It happens very rarely so I wouldn’t worry too much.
Sidge (prop n.) – An abbreviation of “Sidgwick site”, where most of the humanities faculties are located. At Sidge, you will often find over-dressed, edgy arts students grabbing a bite at The ARC (café) and very rarely doing actual work.
Sidgebox (prop n.) – “The sassiest book dropbox on the Sidgwick Site” according to its Twitter profile. Yes, the box has Twitter.
show yr love for me this valentine’s day & give me back the books you borrowed from your fac in october and haven’t opened yet
— Sidgbox (@sidgbox) February 13, 2020
Spraying (v.) – If you have particularly annoying friends, you might get “sprayed” with cava after your last exam in Easter, making for a very uncomfortable cycle home.
Supo (n.) – An abbreviation of “supervision”. Some people I know call them “sups” (pronounced “soups”). Don’t be one of those people.
Swap (n.) – A social event where one college/society goes out for “dinner” with another college/society. I’ve put dinner in air-quotation marks because you’re very unlikely to have time to consume any actual food amidst all the “pennying”, “fining”, drinking games and general disorderly behaviour.
The Tab (prop n.) – An amazing, super friendly, student newspaper that started in Cambridge and has since expanded across the UK. I’ve also been told that the editorial team is super attractive. And there’s a “Crushbridge” to prove it:
Townie (n.) – A term for anyone who doesn’t go to Cambridge Uni.
Trinmo (n.) – A mathmo who goes to Trinity. A special breed.
Tripos (n.) – The Cambridge exam system. “Topping Tripos” means ranking first in your class. You are almost guaranteed to meet someone who brags about this endlessly.
Turf (prop n.) – Yet another popular clubbing event in Cambridge. I personally have no idea how good it is because the one time I bought a ticket I had to sell it last minute to write an essay. That tends to happen here, a lot.
UL (prop n.) – The “University Library”. Phallic with a capital P.
Union (prop n.) – The university’s debating society. Famous guest speakers have included Dua Lipa, Jeremy Corbyn, and also Rowan Williams, whose Tab interview you can read here.
Van of Death (prop n.) – The “Van of Life’s” (see below for definition) evil twin. Officially named “Uncle Frank’s”. I don’t actually know what it did to deserve this unfavourable nickname but I’ll proudly say I’ve never been there.
Van of Life (prop n.) – A mobile food vendor on the other side of Market square to the “Van of Death”. A popular post-clubbing food-stop that to this day has not spelled my name right on their order board.
Varsity (n.) – “Varsity” has many definitions so try not to get them confused. Firstly, there are Varsity matches between Oxford and Cambridge sports teams. Secondly, there’s the Varsity Ski trip which usually takes place at the end of Michaelmas for self-proclaimed “cool kids”. Finally, Varsity also happens to be the name of our rival student publication. I won’t use this opportunity to throw shade because we have big respect for Varsity here at The Cambridge Tab and cherish a bit of healthy competition. (I will say however that WE will be reopening applications to join The Tab very soon, so do with that information what you will).
Week Five Blues (n.) – It’s commonly said the stress and homesickness that can come with term reaches its peak in the fifth week of the Cambridge term. Some say that Weeks’ six and seven are the real hard-hitters, but I do English, so I’m not really allowed to have an opinion on this. Just know that as work escalates and things seem to be spiraling out of control, you’re not alone and it will all calm down eventually x
And that’s a wrap
We’ve come to the end of our list of weird and wonderful Cambridge vocabulary. I must admit that these definitions largely come out of my own experience, so you shouldn’t let my obvious hatred of the boat club keep you from trying out for rowing if you so desire (You know, when and if you’re actually allowed to row again).
The other thing I wanted to say is, this took me an embarrassingly long time to put together, so I really, really hope someone out there finds some use for it. And if you think I missed anything super important… that’s just too bad, soz x
Featured Image Credit: Charissa Cheong