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Origins of the gentleman's c?
March 21, 2007 2:39 PM   Subscribe

I am looking for the etymology for the term "gentleman's 'c'" and my google-fu is just pulling up Bush-bashing. Any advice from the hive?
posted by B-squared to Grab Bag (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
I thought it was when universities like Harvard, Princeton, and Yale would never give failing grades, and if you earned a D or an F in a class, you would automatically get a C.

I was under the impression that this was especially true for rich kids (gentlemen) who had gotten into these universities based more on their bloodline/familial connections than merit. And since they were so rich and powerful, these universities couldn't really fail them because that would be terrible for their image.

Bush got a lot of Cs and low Bs at Yale.
posted by ruwan at 2:49 PM on March 21, 2007


I've found the OED helps me with most of these word questions. Here's their entry:

1907 Educ. Rev. Apr. 386 The saying that ‘C is a gentleman's grade’ is evidently an imperfect defense for the idler in Harvard College.] 1922 C. BRITTEN in H. E. Stearns Civilization in U.S. 127 He crams through a few febrile nights of cloistral deprivations and flagellations; and the sun shines again on his harvest of gentlemen's C's. 1952 L. W. FERGUSON Personality Measurem. xv. 400 A person who decides that he is going ‘to make’ Phi Beta Kappa has a higher level of aspiration that the student who decides he is going to be satisfied with a gentleman's C average. 2000 New Yorker 24 Apr. 18/2 The ‘gentleman's C’ of yesteryear has magically turned into a B-plus today, thanks to the craven indifference of Ivy League professors.

Looks like it was already a "saying" in 1907.
posted by vacapinta at 2:53 PM on March 21, 2007


From Harvard Magazine:

"For those to whom the winning verse does not ring true, the authors [of "Harvard A to Z"] also kindly include, in "Extinct Harvard," a 1909 verse by Judge Robert Grant, class of 1873, LL.B. 1879, immortalizing the "gentleman's C." It reads, in part,

The able-bodied C man! He sails swimmingly along.
His philosophy is rosy as a skylark's matin song.
The light of his ambition is respectably to pass,
And to hold a firm position in the middle of his class.

At a time of College curriculum revision and fretting about grade inflation, the C man's advice, from Raktaprachit Aab's era, may even seem eerily au courant: "A skillful choice of studies makes one's afternoons all free;/The chief merit of electives to the man who aims at C.""
posted by MonkeyToes at 3:01 PM on March 21, 2007


Presumably derived from the 'gentleman's third'.
posted by holgate at 3:08 PM on March 21, 2007


aka gentleman's degree
posted by TheRaven at 3:45 PM on March 21, 2007


> I was under the impression that this was especially true for rich kids (gentlemen) who had gotten into these universities based more on their bloodline/familial connections than merit.

Specifically, the lore is that children of wealthy alumni (in contrast to non-wealthy alumni) received special handling so as not to endanger the endowments their parents dangle over the school. Wikipedia's entry on Legacy Students (children of wealthy and non-wealthy alumni alike) is worth a skim: it doesn't address your question but touches on some of the surrounding issues and provides links for more info.
posted by ardgedee at 5:11 PM on March 21, 2007


I understand the definition of the term as it is used today; I'm looking for the etymology. Vacapinta and Monkey Toes, you're offering just the kind of thing I'm looking for. I'm particularly interested in whether the term originates in the US and whether it has always held the same connotation. Is it always associated with children of means?
posted by B-squared at 6:27 PM on March 21, 2007


I'm particularly interested in whether the term originates in the US

I expect the British gentleman's third pre-dates the gentleman's C.
posted by Aloysius Bear at 6:01 AM on March 22, 2007


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