The Words that Bind Us: Dartmouth Lingo
This article is featured in the 2020 Freshman special issue.
It’s week five, and you’ve just finished a midterm for a class that you thought was going to be a layup. No matter, it’s over, and you’re looking forward to catching up with a friend at Foco. As you take a warmcut through Newvack, you scoff at the line and keep heading through FFB, waving back at a particularly facetime-y friend as you pass. You grab a chair on the light side and shoot a text to your friend: “light side @now!! come thru.”
Most of us look back on our freshman fall, however fondly, as a time of acclimation. No matter how close or far you traveled to get to campus, whether the fall foliage-framed campus was just another day or a mind-blowing Hallmark movie moment (as a Californian, the golden leaves and eventual snowfall were one of many transitions I experienced — who knew that changing seasons didn’t just mean aggressively early Christmas decorations in the Target dollar section?), all freshmen undergo a less visible transition to become a part of the Dartmouth community. The thing that brings all students at the College together is wholly unseen: the lingo. Or perhaps — as linguistics professor David Peterson told me is the more specific term — the slang.
“Slang seems like it’s really just casual and unimportant, but it actually is really crucial and it creates this sense of social identity,” Peterson said. “It helps to form a cohesive community among Dartmouth personnel and students.”
Let’s start with the basics. For one, plenty of the buildings on campus aren’t referred to by their official names. The main all-you-can-eat dining hall, officially known as the Class of 1953 Commons, is referred to as Foco. The first floor is split into two sides, the light side and dark side. The light side is, yes, lighter, with fluorescent lights beaming down on diners, and is known to seat the NARPS — non-athletic regular people. The dark side, with its wood interior and Hogwarts-esque energy, is the domain of the athletes. But don’t get too caught up in the politics, most people sit wherever they want.
Although the College enthusiastically encourages students to eat at Foco (think students carrying around buckets of lobsters and a student DJ pumping his fists in the air in the middle of the dining hall as you try to scarf down your stir-fry — both have happened), you’ll also find religious Hop- and Collis-goers. The Hop, formally known as the Courtyard Cafe (but don’t use that — you’ll get blank stares at best), is adjacent to the Hood Museum of Art and known for burgers, fries and associated comfort food. Collis is a bit more sophisticated, boasting omelettes, sandwiches and speciality items during the day and pasta, stir-fry and sushi come dinnertime.
Like it or not, you’ll be spending a lot of time in the heart of campus — Baker-Berry Library. Upon entering Baker Library you’ll come to the lobby, affectionately termed Blobby. Make your way up either side of the library to find the pin-drop silence of the Tower Room. Its dark, wood-paneled atmosphere screams academia and paints the perfect backdrop for some serious studying or a nice nap, but beware that there’s no in-between. Sanborn Library offers a similarly studious milieu, albeit with a bit more light. Adjacent to Baker Library is Berry, a modern and multi-level fluorescent-lit space. Its first floor is dubbed FFB and is notorious for the facetime-y extroverted inhabitants who love being seen and can somehow effortlessly socialize while still getting work done. Each floor up, from 2FB, 3FB to 4FB, decreases in noise level. If you’re grinding on 4FB, all I can say is that my prayers are with you.
Not to worry: Your studying shall not go unfueled, as many a grim meal has been eaten at the library cafe, formerly dubbed Novack. Previously known for its staggering lines of students gathered in wait of a breakfast sandwich or mediocre coffee, its recent Starbucks-infused renovation now has Newvack, known for its equally staggering lines of students gathered in wait of a breakfast sandwich and a now (debatably) above-mediocre Starbucks coffee.
There are also some basic academic terms that you’ll need to know. First up is something that every school has — “easy-A classes,” or , as we tend to call them, layups. Layups are courses that have A-medians and typically fulfill distribs (i.e. distributive requirements in different departments that make up the contents of a liberal arts education). An unofficial comprehensive guide to layups is available on Layuplist.com, complete with past medians and reviews left by students who have taken the course — we love students supporting students.
I recommend bracing yourself for add/drop, which often involves staying up until midnight to attempt to add a class you didn’t get, cursing out eduroam (the school’s decidedly shakey Wi-Fi) as it inevitably crashes from the entire campus trying to get onto the server.
On a lighter note, Dartmouth’s Greek life, love it or hate it, makes for a one-of-a-kind social scene — pre-and post-COVID-19 that is. On-nights, or party nights when Greek houses host events, take place on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays. To gear up, unless you want your favorite shoes covered in a dry crust of what I like to call “eau de Keystone Lite,” bring frat shoes that you won’t mind getting dirty. Additionally, during the winter, you may approach Webster Avenue (frat row) via a warmcut, a shortcut through any heated building. Blobby is a personal favorite of many. In any case, the tender caress of sub-zero New England nighttime winds also warrant a thick outer layer, so like your frat shoes, “invest” — as in buy the cheapest jacket you can find — in a fracket. This should be a jacket that you aren’t afraid to lose, as many an ode to a lost or stolen fracket has been written to the houses of Webster Ave.
Most houses host tails early during on nights, a sort of pre-game, typically invite-only event. These events are often themed, and a cherished Dartmouth tradition is to don flair. When flair is the dress code, it’s the time to break out your strangest, loudest, brightest, most obnoxious outfits. Onesies, tutus, neon, glitter — the sky’s the limit. If someone tells you to roll thru or come thru one of these events, that’s an invitation, and if they add @now you’d better bust out your Blundstones: The event is happening!
A discussion of Dartmouth lingo isn’t complete without mention of … yes, you guessed it, emails. According to Peterson, blitz used to refer to a Dartmouth-specific email interface that students installed on their computers. While we have since moved on to Outlook and Gmail, the name stuck and is still used to refer to a student’s email address, as well as an email you send to someone — I guess you could say you can send a blitz to someone’s blitz.
It gets better! Have you been eyeing that cute person in your math class but genuinely know nothing about them except for their name? You can send what we like to call a flitz, or a flirty blitz, usually consisting of a healthy smattering of gifs (you’ll find out pretty quickly this campus really likes its gifs) and some rhyming, if you’re creative. Or, you could keep it platonic with a friend-blitz, or a fritz.
However, fritzes are definitely not the way to go about completing the Dartmouth Seven. The ambiguously titled Seven, while not a series of quests through Middle Earth, are still not for the faint of heart. Aspirants, should they accept their odyssey, must have sex — yes, this is a thing — in seven different locations on campus: The Top of the Hop, the Green, the steps of Dartmouth Hall, the 50-yard line of the football field (not quite the touchdown you were picturing), Bema (a landscaped amphitheater in College Park, also a lovely place to stargaze!), the library stacks of Baker-Berry Library and of course, College President Phil Hanlon’s pristine front lawn. Just three percent of the Class of 2020 claims to have completed the task, and only 27 percent attempted even one of the locations — but if you choose to pursue the fabled Seven, best of luck to you.
There are plenty more challenges to take on before your time at the College runs out. Lou’s Challenge awaits students who manage to pull an all-nighter and round out their night (or morning I suppose) with a 7 a.m. breakfast at Lou’s Restaurant & Bakery in Hanover. I recommend the french toast! When the weather’s warm, daring students can take on the Ledyard Challenge, which involves stripping down and swimming across the Connecticut River to Vermont on the other side. Once completed, participants must sprint back to New Hampshire across the Ledyard Bridge without being caught by the police or Safety and Security, and preferably to retrieve their clothes. I recommend passing the mandatory swim test before trying this one.
Note: The Dartmouth does not endorse any activity which may violate College standards of conduct, Hanover, state or federal law. You have been warned.
If your ideal Saturday night doesn’t include playing pong, throwing it back on Phil’s front lawn or other potentially self-destructive behaviors, not to worry — there are a plethora of other things to do that lend themselves to nights you will want (and be able) to remember.
However daunting this slew of Dartmouth slang may seem, rest assured that you’ll get the hang of it soon enough. According to Peterson, the close campus culture lends itself to in-group behavior.
“We signal linguistically that we’re in the in-group,” Peterson said. “It’s like we’re family — it’s language that just we use as opposed to outside of our family.”
So, virtual or not, welcome to the family.