Although this is not the time of the year when kings go forth to war, it is the time of the year when alumni go forth to homecomings, therewith to swap stories, meet old friends, make a small contribution to their alma mater, eat hotdogs, cheer for their football team, and perhaps listen to the ramblings of an old professor.
But, in contemplating homecomings, I am having a lexical meltdown. Am I (and others not like me) an alumni, alumnae, or simply an alumnus or alumna? It seems like Latin changes everything: your gender, your friends, your school, and your social identity.
You may have been taught that alumni is/are plural (in Latin) and can therefore refer to a group of male graduates alone or to male and female graduates collectively. That doesn’t seem right or fair and should be examined, although an act of congress may be necessary to assure any revised correct form of speech. It seems unlikely, however, that any member of congress—male, female, or otherwise—is willing to show how little Latin grammar they know and must resort to polls and social media before making a statement on the matter.
A solution proposed by a member of congress from California is to use the “ungendered” and therefore “unconfusing” terms alum and alums. Caesar might not approve, but social media and the polls tell us that a “high percentage” of college graduates no longer want to be saddled with Latin singular and plural endings. They believe that such endings are degrading and disrespectful and should be used only in referring to fellow graduates now in prison.
For the rest of the graduate population, something lexically enlightening may be done. It seems that at least one alumna from the vast army of alumnae should step backward, throw her (or its) hat into the air, and, with it, any Latin endings still operating in English. We must divorce ourselves from Caesar and Rome and flourish accordingly.
How might we refer to such “graduates,” a term used loosely to refer to anyone who has paid for a semester of college? One proposal is that “henceforth” (a word seldom used but proposed in congress for actions that are temporally challenged) those coming to a homecoming should be referred to as home-comers, regardless of gender, age, blood type, skin complexion, or financial recourses. This neutral moniker will “level the playing field,” as one well-known university president put it in his homecoming address.
But what if the home-comer wants to be known as a male or female? Rumor has it that there are still some humans that classify themselves accordingly. One suggestion is the handle “homer,” not to be confused with a four-base hit in baseball, should be used for males and "homar" for females. A "homoar" would refer to any group of human beings who claim to be “graduates” of college and have registered for homecoming. All homoar can then be photographed, blood-typed, and issued an ID card, thereby (another useful word) avoiding the necessity of having a chip inserted in their wrist or forearm.
This may all seem quite silly, but doesn’t much of homecoming border on absurdity and folly? It includes a time when many old fraternity and sorority homoars became soused and plastered and, before they know it, have made a sizeable contribution to the alum fund. They need congressional protection!
Of course, my comments can be read as sarcastic and scornful: the normal (if I may use that word) homoars are true (another useful word) graduates who have gone on to make the world a better place in which to live—just as the homecoming professor said they would. They deserve to be celebrated as successful and eminent alums.
Such prominent graduates are the true home-goers, a term that can be applied to any alum who is sane and sober and believes in the college of their choice.
Homegoers are the backbone, or at least cartilage, of our society and deserve to be applauded for their efforts. As one ancient professor put it, Grammatici certant et adhuc suh iudice lis est, “The grammarians are still quarreling and the matter is still in dispute” (from Horace, Art of Poetry).