• baccalaureate •
Part of Speech: Noun, Adjective
Meaning: 1. The degree given by US universities upon the completion of an undergraduate degree. 2. The farewell sermon offered to a college graduating class.
Notes: As the Word History will show, the spelling of today's word has been influenced by wholly unrelated words, so beware of the double C and the AU in the third syllable. This word is a lexical orphan with no relatives. It may be used as an adjective, however, as in 'a baccalaureate ceremony'.
In Play: Today's word refers first and foremost to the lowest degree offered by universities: "Randolph received his baccalaureate from Bucknell and his master's from Penn State." However, it also refers to the graduate sermon offered by some universities before graduation: "Still sleepy and not thinking clearly, the reverend began his annual convocation sermon; then, noticing the frown on the president's face, quickly switched over to his baccalaureate."
Word History: Today's Good Word is an English adaptation of Medieval Latin baccalaureatus "baccalaureate, lowest university degree", which was derived from baccalarius "tenant farmer". When this word for "tenant farmer" was promoted to mean a university graduate, it was reanalyzed by folk etymology under the influence of laureatus "crowned with laurel", the symbol of a victor. The original word went on to become Old French bacheler, borrowed by English for its bachelor. Thus baccalaureate and bachelor, as in 'bachelor's degree', not only mean the same but share the same origin. (The origin of today's Good and seasonal Word is Peggy Nielsen, whom we thank heartily for it.)
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