Westmister Speak

A guide to some of the terminology and slang vocabulary likely to be found in the Westminster School Archives. Some of these phrases are now obsolete, but many remain in use.

When used without an article, this refers to services in Westminster Abbey, now held on Monday and Friday mornings; "It's time for Abbey". Also used to refer to Westminster Abbey itself.

A diary originally published at the beginning of each term, now produced annually.

One of the eleven School Houses, located at 6 Dean’s Yard. Not to be confused with Ashburnham House, a building in Little Dean’s Yard, where it was originally based.

Begging a Play
Making a request for a Play. The Dean annually begs a Play at the Greaze, but other Plays may also be ‘begged’ especially by celebrities or in recognition of notable events in the life of the School.

A School House.

To ‘keep cave’ is to keep lookout. This term was generic Public School slang and is probably drawn from the Latin ‘cav-ô’, which means beware.

The Challenge
The exam sat by boys applying for scholarships. It was wholly oral until 1855, its name deriving from the practice of a candidate interrupting, or 'challenging' one already speaking.

The House of the King’s/Queen’s Scholars. Also used to refer to their dormitory building at school.

A pupil who locks up at night.

The school’s ‘Founder’s Day’ where benefactors are commemorated.

A School House..

An award given to a pupil for an outstanding piece of work. Previously issued to pupils from all years (Vth form – Remove), it is now only given to boys in the lower school (Vth, Lower Shell and Upper Shell). An award of a digniora was once an extremely rare event, normally unwitnessed over the course of a Westminster career.

A year of scholars. The first election are the 5th form scholars (age 13-14), the second election are the lower shell scholars (age 14-15) etc. There are usually eight scholars in each of 5 Elections. Also used to refer to the Summer Term, in which scholars were elected to Christ Church, Oxford and to Trinity, Cambridge.

The Elizabethan is the School’s official magazine.

A term used to refer to tanning (beating) a pupil.

A generic term used to refer to a school holiday.

A junior boy who performed menial tasks for a senior boy who was his ‘fag master’.

Vincent Square, the School’s playing fields.

An English sport where a ball is propelled against the walls of a special court using gloved or bare hands as though they were a racquet.

Going/coming down
Used in a sentence like "Are you going/coming down today?" This means "Are you going rowing?”

One of the school’s houses; the oldest continuously run boarding house of any Public School in England.

Pupils in Grant’s house. Alumni of the school who had been members of Grant’s are known as ‘Old Grantites’.

The (Pancake) Greaze
The ‘Greaze’ has been held ‘up School’ on Shrove Tuesdays since at least 1753. The head cook ceremoniously tosses a pancake over a high iron bar, which was used from the 16th century to separate ‘Under’ School from the ‘Great’ School. Members of the school fight for the pancake for one minute, watched over by the Dean of Westminster, the Head Master, the whole School and distinguished or even occasionally Royal visitors. The pupil who gets the largest weight is awarded a gold guinea and the Dean begs a Play for the whole School. A cook who failed to get the pancake over the bar would formerly have been ‘booked’, or stoned with Latin primers, although that tradition has long lapsed.

Dean's Yard; the lawn in the middle of Dean's Yard; "The school has a right to play football on Green" (always without an article).

Cigarette, origins unknown, though most likely a bastardisation of 'g'rette, a contraction of the word cigarette, whilst making a phonetic reference to the famous Westminster tradition, "The Greaze".

A School House.

A day House for pupils who were part of the School but did not board, preferring to live at home. Homeboarders was the precursor to the School’s current Wrens House.

End of term exams for the Upper School, first used by the Classics department in the 1970s.


King’s Scholars (K.S)
Boys who pass the school’s Challenge examination become King’s/Queen’s Scholars, depending on the reigning monarch. The school’s statues currently provide for 48 scholars, and there are consequently usually 8 boys in each year group, and 4 girls in each the Sixth and Remove.

Latin Play
It is a Westminster tradition for the Scholars to perform a Latin Play at the end of the Play term, although this tradition has lapsed.

Latin Prayers
Prayers up School currently held on Wednesday morning, but formerly held daily at the end of school lessons.

Lent Term
Spring Term.

A School House.

Leave of absence from Station, often on medical grounds. Granted by Housemasters and Matrons.

Maundy money is given to pupils at the end of the Election Term for some particular contribution to Westminster life.

A fight.

A School House.

Monitor is the generic title given to certain pupils in positions of authority within the school. The Monitorial comprised the Captain of the King’s Scholars, Princeps Oppidanorum, Heads of Houses and their deputies.

Mons Os
Monitor Ostium – the scholar that stands at the entrance to School before Latin Prayers.

Swot (both noun and verb), to study assiduously. This word was still in use in the 1920s and attempts were made to revive it in the 1970s.

During the annual Anglican confirmation service, non-church goers were confined to their Houses. This was referred to as occupat.

Old Wet
Old Westminster (OW); Old Westminsters (OWW). School alumni.

Order Sheets
Historically, school reports. Today, only those given at half term are known by this name.

The Pink List
The list of pupils and members of the Common Room of the school. This existed both as a small pink book (the source of the name) and as a computer database.

The Westminster School colour is pink. Pupils who showed particular distinction in school sport were awarded colours (often identified in the right to wear a tie). ‘Full pinks’ was the highest distinction, followed by ‘half pinks’ and ‘thirds’.

A half or whole day's holiday, especially in conjunction with a notable event. Annual Plays are the Queen's Play and the Dean's Play.

Play Term
Autumn Term.

Praebendum (plural Praebenda)
The same as a Digniora, but issued to those boys and girls in the Upper School (VIth and Remove) who submit outstanding pieces of work, or attain well-above average test results.

Short for ‘preparation’, prep is a term still currently used in Public Schools, including Westminster, to refer to time given to pupils for independent, supervised study.

Prin Op/P.O./Princeps Oppidanus/Princeps Oppidanus
Senior non-scholar school monitor – one would only be appointed, and not always then, when the Captain of School was a Scholar.

Used to refer to Westminster School Boat Club, which is in Putney, an area of London.

A School House.

Queen’s Scholar (Q.S)
Boys who pass the school’s Challenge examination become Queen’s/King’s Scholars, depending on the reigning monarch. The school’s statues currently provide for 48 scholars, and there are consequently usually 8 boys in each year group, and 4 girls in each the Sixth and Remove.

Both a noun and a verb pertaining to misbehaviour (e.g. "He was punished for ragging in Prep.", or "What a foolish rag!"), or a term used to refer more specifically to fighting.

Final year at school, year 13.

The School’s second oldest boarding house.

Saturday Afternoon Punishment; detention in a classroom for cutting Abbey, Station, etc. No longer in use.

School Case
A disciplinary hearing conducted by the Captain of the Scholars and other senior monitors. Used when a crime is perceived to be sufficiently serious or impacts upon the whole school community, in the place of discipline within house. Pupils could appeal to the Head Master to hear their case if they felt the judgement was unfair.

Scis is the name used by Westminster pupils to refer to other children in the Westminster area that did not attend the school.

Shag (Day)
Pupils may attend school wearing clothes not specified by the uniform code, but are expected to give a small donation to charity if they do so, known as "Shag Money". This is only permitted on certain days; "It's Shag Day on Saturday." As a verb, it was widely used to mean "play truant" but fell into disuse due to the more widely known modern meaning.

Originally a form taught in the semi-circular alcove in School when all forms were taught in one room. The ‘Shell Form’ persisted and now exists as the Lower and Upper Shell.

Sports which are compulsory and held on Tuesday and Thursday afternoon at various times. Originally it meant any compulsory engagement.

Sut’s was the nickname given to a shop on Great College Street run by a Miss Sutcliffe. The store served as an unofficial tuck shop to the pupils. Its name is commemorated by the school in the name used for a classroom block established on Great College Street following the closure of the store.

A form of corporal punishment administered by Masters and Monitors. Tanning refers to being struck by a cane (also known as a tanning stick).

Town Boy
A pupil who is not a scholar.

Up (house, School, Fields, etc.)
"Inside" or "to". "You should go up house if you don't have a lesson", "Latin prayers take place up School". Events in Vincent Square are said to be "up Fields". Exceptions to the rule are that one is never "up College" only "in College", "in Yard", "at Putney" and "on Green".

Rowing Station (The Westminster School Boat Club is based in Putney).

A School House.

Little Dean's Yard; "He was in Yard" (always without an article). This is also often used to refer to the period after Prep from 9pm to 10pm when boarders are free to entertain themselves in Yard, and, in slang, to "Yard Football", the game that students play there in their free time.