The Frank Muir Prize for Humour is an annual competition to find the best in original humorous writing that the University has to offer. The competition is named after the writer and presenter Frank Muir who served as Rector of the University between 1976 and 1979. Towards the end of his term, he established an annual gift of £1000 to be awarded to the best writer or writers of a piece of humorous writing. At the end of semester one, Gemma Boothroyd and Katherine Weber were announced as the latest winners of the writing prize.
We spoke to them about the inspiration for their pieces. Gemma, the author of Period, said that, “I was inspired to write this piece after my first day in St (or, shall I say, St.) Andrews. I was exploring the town and venturing down every lane and pathway I could find. I couldn’t help but to notice the discrepancies in the signs, storefronts and posters which surrounded me. I was baffled by the occasional presence of a period, and equally puzzled by the frequent blaring lack of one. And thus, my quest to understand the reasons for the differing names of our wonderful home began!” Katherine, the author of Alternative Handbook for Incoming Students, said, “I was inspired by the quirkiness of St Andrews traditions. While writing this piece, I tried to reimagine the traditions as far more unusual.”
The winning entries are featured in full below:
Period – by Gemma Boothroyd
Ah, the period. Perhaps not as contentious nor as dangerous as the comma (consider the classic egregious omission at play here: “I find inspiration in cooking my family and my cat” vs. “I find inspiration in cooking, my family, and my cat”), but a critical aspect of punctuation nonetheless. A missing period can be the indicator of a run-on overdrawn sentence (like the above), or a pregnancy on the way. Although it doesn’t indicate a question per se (we have a swirly snake-looking punctuation for that!), in my case, the period has been the cause for grave and dire questioning and puzzlement.
It all began the very moment I clicked on a fateful “submit” button. I was posting my St Andrews application to the online portal. But immediately upon doing so, I realized what a grave, grave mistake I’d made. A “Thank You for Applying!” email popped up on my screen. My heart began to race. My hands shot up in a protective reflex to cover my pitiable eyes from the horror. Had I really done the unthinkable? Yes. Indeed—I had very well misspelled the name of the school I so desperately longed to attend.
You see, I had always assumed that the word “Saint” was abbreviated as such: “St. Andrews” (with the period and all). That spelling was scattered throughout my application. “I relished my visit to St. Andrews” this, “St. Andrews’ academic rigor speaks for itself,” that.
What I failed to realized was, in fact, the school does not use the period at all.
In hopes of succumbing my initial paranoia that this mistake would cost me any chance of getting in to the school, I embarked on a fervent Googling quest. I exhaled a brief sigh of relief upon uncovering a book written in 1920 by a Sir David Fleming entitled Handbook to St. Andrews. This, I felt, was compelling and sufficient evidence to support a request for an appeal to the admissions board (should I not be accepted for my critical punctuation problem). I even discovered a 1856 sailboat painting by the artist Sam Bough, entitled Off St. Andrews. Things were looking up.
My fretting subsided. All in all, I had two pieces of history for evidence. One was even written by a “Sir!” Each of these examples employed the use of the fateful period—and they were both practically 100 years old. With age comes wisdom. And as such, I decided that “St. Andrews” was inherently synonymous with “St Andrews.” I decided that, ultimately, everything would be fine. Perhaps my use of the period even denoted a refined and researched understanding of the town and its ancient history.
Weeks later, I was accepted into the school. The elation and relief washed over me like the North Sea tumbling on the East Sands. All seemed okay on the period and non-period front. I had found inner peace on the matter.
It wasn’t until I landed in town that this debacle re-emerged. I had accepted that although it felt incredibly wrong to forgo the period, as a foreigner, it was important that I respect the lay of this land. And I did—that is, until I walked past an absolutely jarring sign. I was on my way to my first module, a skip in my step so big that I just about tripped when I saw it.
There it was, in all its glory: “The Pro Shop at St. Andrews,” throwing me off of everything I had come to accept as true. The inconsistency absolutely baffled me. Was that a speck of dirt camouflaged as a faux-period smack dab in the middle of the sign? With great hesitance, I encroached on the crime scene. Could this really be?
With each inch I approached the sign, the more I was assured that my eyes were observing a Times New Roman-esque period, and not merely a smudge of dust. I asked myself: could there be a massive-scale disagreement between the town and the school on the debate of the period? Perhaps the school omitted it, while the town encouraged it. My mind raced.
It was at this moment that I had an important revelation: without the period, was the technically correct pronunciation of St Andrews like “Standrews?” Just one word, with no pause? I couldn’t help but to think of the University embodied as a man now, by the name of Stan Drews. He sounded poised, academic and stalwart (not to be confused with St. Alwart). Yes, this did add up with my personification of the school.
Things have only gotten increasingly murky in the past weeks. There is little consistency on the topic. See below for a collage representing my perplexity and bewilderment.
I’ve since brought my worry up with many other students, who hum and haw at the issue. Most agreed that, upon a closer look, the period really does seem to be missing. While I basked in their support of this issue for a while, eventually, I knew I had to investigate what the grammarians thought on the dispute.
So I took to the internet, and what I found dumbfounded me. As it turns out, the UK abides by the following: one should not add a period to an abbreviated word if the abbreviation includes the last letter of the abbreviated word. For example, “Mister” is “Mr” and “Fort” is “Ft” because the abbreviation is but the first and last letter of the word. As such, Saint should not have a period upon abbreviating it, because it’s the first and last letter as well!
Alas, I’d found the answer. While I should have been settled, something still felt amiss. There was one source, one testimony I so desperately sought on the matter. And that was that of St Andrew himself. Given that this school is ultimately his, he inherently qualifies as the ultimate testimony on this query. Right? Did he want a period in his name, or did he prefer it naked of punctuation?
I felt for St Andrew. I really did. But then a whole new crushing blow hit my punctuation-loving brain. If this is indeed St Andrew’s school, then should he not have an apostrophe to indicate his possession of it? St Andrews seems to speak of several saints, or perhaps, of an entirely different saint.
Will these predicaments ever come to resolve? In all likelihood, no. But this whole new query is a matter for another time. Period.
Alternative Handbook for Incoming Students – Katherine Weber
Chapter One: Traditions
You may know that the University of St Andrews has a variety of fun, unique traditions for its students. However, you may be uncertain about how these traditions actually work. Don’t worry! Below is a comprehensive guide outlining these rollicking rituals so that you will be ready to dive right in when you arrive in this beautiful seaside town.
The Pier Walk
The Pier Walk is a weekly activity designed to celebrate the town’s proximity to water and engage students’ creativity. For the Pier Walk, which takes place every Sunday at 3:48am, students dress up as piers and walk down Market Street—hence, the “Pier Walk.” Although a pier is the typical costume of choice, dressing up as boardwalks, docks, wharfs, and quays is also common. Some students choose to do the Pier Walk as a group, and may dress as individual stones or slabs of wood and walk in such a formation that together they form a more realistically-sized pier.
Some students choose to purchase red gowns, a traditional garment of St Andrews students. How you use the gown depends on which year you are in.
In the first year, the gown is a kind of communication tool, meant to be worn whenever students wish to express emotions associated with the colour red. For example, an angry student may whip out his/her gown and put it on to inform others of his/her rage. Equally, a student may put on the gown to let others know of his/her painful embarrassment.
In the second year, students must wear the gown in the opposite direction, as if it were a wearable blanket. This blanket arrangement is to ensure that second years get enough rest and warmth in the chilly weather as they work to pass their sub-Honours modules. As a result of many second years falling asleep in the libraries, however, students are no longer allowed to wear their gowns in university study spaces.
In their third year, students must cut two holes in the gown and wear it over their heads on occasion so that they look like red ghosts. These third years must wear the gowns like this and attempt to frighten first and second years by jumping out from behind corners and yelling. This promotes good spirit and jest between members of the student body.
Finally, after mending the holes in the gown, students must create a hammock from the gown and hang it in their dwelling. This part of the tradition stems from the idea that fourth years are tired and deserve the rest after three years of hard work.
Academic families are a way for freshers to become closer to fellow first years and older students. Third years “adopt” freshers as “children” and become kinds of “parents” to them.
These third years assume all of the typical responsibilities of parenting, including making sure their children are completing their coursework deadlines, signing the children up for unwanted music lessons, attempting to teach them a foreign language while their brains are young and absorbent, encouraging them to watch only two hours of television per day, and suggesting they avoid alcohol consumption. These uni “parents,” for some students, actually become almost indistinguishable from their biological parents, which can either be extremely positive or negative. Fortunately, however, students can easily choose to estrange themselves from their family members, although this may result in them getting cut out of the parents’ will.
Academic families are central to other traditions. See “Raisin” and “Foam Fight.”
Raisin is a way for academic families to become closer and to engage their creative abilities. On the morning of Raisin Sunday, academic parents gift their children with a singular raisin. The parents task the children with creating something meaningful inspired by that particular raisin. In the past, first years have come up with some astounding works, including one artistic student’s impressionist painting of her family’s raisin (which remains today in the university library). Another family created a life-size sculpture of their raisin made entirely of Cadbury chocolate, which they shared with other students. Yet another family composed a book of eloquent poetry focused entirely on their raisin, featured a sonnet entitled “The Wrinkled Gemstone,” a villanelle called “Dried Fruit and Dried Tears,” and a free verse poem titled “Raisin’ the Roof.” A family of International Relations students wrote an essay about their raisin called “On the Liberation of Flavour,” complete with a bibliography. At the end of Raisin Sunday the project must be complete. The children then divide up the raisin into equal parts to consume. Students never forget this day.
The Foam Fight is an annual competition among first years to reinforce the bonds made on “Raisin,” which takes place on the previous day. Students who participate in the Foam Fight must go around to every coffee shop in St Andrews, order a cappuccino, scrape the foam layer off of the drink and collect the foam in a large vessel. Whichever family accumulates the most foam in the span of three hours wins the “Foam Fight.” The winners usually dump their vessel of foam on the losers of the competition. Furthermore, the winners receive a year of free coffee, which is helpful for deadlines, but these students often develop an extreme coffee addiction and can usually be found noisily pacing the top floor of the library trying to rid themselves of excess energy.
On the night before May 1, the students gather to make and consume the May Dip. May Dip cannot be purchased anywhere; it is a specific recipe that only Honours students have the privilege of learning. In fact, this is the first thing Honours-level students are taught. They attend a highly secretive and secure lecture to ensure the Honours-level standard of the dip. It is very important that you pass your sub-Honours modules, so that you have the privilege of learning the May Dip recipe, which you will likely use throughout your life.
The flavour of the dip is difficult to describe. Some philosophy students have attempted to compare the experience of the dip to the emergence from the cave in Plato’s cave analogy, but they attest that this description, while close, does not suffice. English students often spontaneously and involuntarily cite lines from Wordsworth after tasting the dip without any context or explanation.
The idea behind the May Dip is for students to improve their luck for exams by establishing and reinforcing a sense of community with other students by eating the dip together. As prolonged isolation can cause stress, the May Dip is a metaphorical breaking of bread meant to remind students of the importance of not sitting inside for hours on end blankly staring at an empty word document while working through their third existential crisis of the day.
The Dip Monitor is elected by the attendees at the beginning of a dip consumption party. This election is important for a special ritual associated with the dip’s consumption. In order to be allowed to consume the dip, the dipper must approach the Dip Monitor and sing, “Some May Dip, if I may.” After the dipper sings this line, the monitor replies, “You may dip.” If the dipper does not sing the required line but attempts to consume some dip, then the Dip Monitor will swiftly stop the dipping motion and remove the aspiring dipper from the premises.
The Pier Jump is similar to the Pier Walk, but it is usually done only at the end of the academic year. Groups of friends dressed up as piers (or again, boardwalks, docks, wharfs or quays) gather on Market Street and collectively complete a single, synchronised jump—hence, a “Pier Jump.”
Soakings are exclusively targeted at final year students to celebrate the end of their exams. The tradition is not only celebratory, however, but also helpful. The final year’s friends gather at the soaking event and bring receptacles of the person’s favourite caffeinated drink (in a cold form) and dump it on the friend one hour before their final exam commences. The final year student, while being soaked in the drink, attempts to catch some of the drink in his/her mouth, so that he/she may be adequately caffeinated and therefore energised for the last exam of his/her undergraduate experience. This tradition is not for those who become cold easily, however, as these soaked students do not always dry off in time for the exam. Yet this issue was addressed when years ago, cleaning staff bemoaned the multiple coffee, tea, and soda footprints and stains left behind in the examination halls, prompting the university to provide self-drying stations at the front of the exam halls, equipped with multiple hair dryers, so students can dry off before they begin their exam.
We hope this guide has been helpful to understanding the unique (if not a bit zany!) collection of St Andrews traditions. Good luck!