• alumnus •
Pronunciation: ê-lêm-nês • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: A male who has attended or graduated from an educational institution.
Notes: Today's Good Word is one that has held on tenuously to its Latinate plural: alumni [ê-lêm-nai]. This plural is also used to refer to mixed male and female alumni. If you are a female grad from an educational institution you are, of course, an alumna (plural alumnae).
In Play: We are alumni or alumnae of the schools, colleges, and universities we graduate from: "When someone offered to endow the Saddam Hussein Chair in Political Justice at Mustapha Gahten's alma mater, several alumni wrote letters of protest." The implication is that you have learned the lessons, passed the tests, and have been certified knowledgeable in some area of knowledge: "Izzie Badenov is an alumnus (with honors) of the state penal system."
Word History: In Latin, alumnus means simply "foster son, disciple". It comes from the verb alere "to nourish, raise, bring up". This same verb underlies the adjectives almus "nurturing", seen in the name of the institution we graduate from, our Alma Mater "nourishing mother". The same root, al-, is found in many other words having to do with growing up: altus "tall, high" found in English altitude. The root of this word emerged directly (unborrowed) in English as old, elder, and the ald in alderman. (Today we thank Ardis J. Pierce for nurturing our vocabularies with his suggestion of today's Good Word.)