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Oxbridge or Camford by Ralph Dennison

17th July 2019

Oxbridge or Camford by Ralph Dennison

‘Oxbridge’, a word used in literature and increasingly in journalism to refer to the universities of Oxford and Cambridge, is not always popular with the institutions themselves. Whilst the universities collaborate in many areas, they rightly see themselves as making different and distinctive contributions to learning. The word doesn’t represent any formal association between the two universities, (as is the case with ‘Ivy League’) and to some carries the connotation of privilege and elitism, which adds to its dislike with university faculty. The term ‘Oxbridge’ was first employed in literature in the mid-nineteenth century, when Thackeray used it in his novel ‘Pendennis’ to denote a fictional university, describing its rival university as ‘Camford’. Other writers have followed since, notably Virginia Woolf in ‘A Room of One’s Own’, where she uses the word partly to denote the high academic standards of the universities, albeit denied to women and those from poorer backgrounds, hence adding to the sense of privilege it implies. With the expansion of university education in the UK since the Second World War, ‘Oxbridge’ has been used to distinguish the two universities from others, notably the ‘Redbrick’ universities that had been established at the beginning of the twentieth century. It remains a word imbued with a sense of grandeur and elitism, and it is interesting to note that it has a far wider usage than the alternative ‘Camford’. It is one of the earliest and best-known portmanteau words, and as is the case with such words, follows the normal sequence of the words it conflates – ‘Oxford and Cambridge’.

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