Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Wedge and the Wooden Spoon

I was working on a history post and came across this charming little picture in an ad for a Victorian slang dictionary. And that made me wonder: what on earth is a Wedge and Wooden Spoon?

So this will be the slang of the week. It was British university slang in the 19th century. The Wedge was the person at the bottom of the Classical Tripos at Cambridge - after Wedgwood, the man in the first graduating class (1824) who occupied that position. Later bottom-of-the-class grads were first nicknamed Wedgwoods, which later became Wooden Wedge. And the Wooden Spoon? He was the person who did the worst in the Mathematical Tripos.

The Tripos is the term used to refer to final exams for the bachelor's degree at Oxford and Cambridge. it is supposed to have been derived from the term for the three-legged stool the student sat in during his exams.

The Wedge and Spoon certainly look happy enough in the little cartoon, though.

The cartoon is from an ad for Slang Dictionary: or, the Vulgar Words, Street Phrases and "Fast" Expressions of High and Low Society (the ad is in James Russell Lowell's The Biglow Papers [1863], p. 202). This is a book that I am very anxious to read (and will, since it is digitzed), since I always like to know just what to say in High and Low Society!


Gooch, Richard. Nuts To Crack: or, Quips, Quirks and Facete of Oxford and Cambridge (1835), p. 197

Partridge, Eric and Paul Beal. A Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English (2002), p. 1349.


Chef Eureka said...

It's a great little tidbit you have discovered :) I enjoyed reading it.

Lidian said...

Chef Eureka - Thank you! I enjoyed learning about it and just thought it would make a fun little post.

Shinade aka Jackie said...

You are so terrific at finding all of this interesting history. This yet another thing I have never heard of!! Fascinating!!

I couldn't leave you out because you do inspire me!!

Happy weekend,

Lidian said...

Jackie - Thank you so much, you are inspiring too! :)