Almost every time I return home from MIT, I find myself mentally translating certain MIT concepts or words or course numbers when I’m talking to my parents or friends. Things like “I just got back from my 5.112 lecture in 10-250” or “I have three psets due every week this semester and it’s really hosing” or even “I’m doing a UROP in Course 7” don’t mean much to people who’ve never been exposed to MIT. To MIT students, those words and abbreviations and numbers are part and parcel of our culture, with unambiguous and precise meanings. But to my friends and even, to some extent, to my parents, it’s like I’m talking a foreign language – speaking in MITese.
But what else would you expect from a school where virtually everything, from the buildings to the academic buildings, is numbered?
One reason I’m writing this entry is to help bridge the gap between MITese and “regular” English. And beyond that, I also want to showcase this phenomenon of “speaking in MITese,” because I personally feel it’s one of MIT’s most interesting – and yet also most understated – features.
Keep in mind that this guide is just an introduction; I chose to focus on the aspects of MITese that are (in my opinion) universal across campus and of particular interest to prospective students and incoming freshmen.
More comprehensive guides do exist, in both printed form and online, and I assure any aspiring scholars of MITese that you will find plenty of material to interest you. Advanced scholars may also wish to pursue the Jargon File or MIT’s Acronym Wiki.
With that said, enjoy this glimpse into the wonderful if sometimes confusing world of MITese!
Athena (n.) – The MIT campus-wide, Unix-based computing environment; appropriately named after the Greek goddess of wisdom.
beaver (n.) – MIT’s mascot, chief engineer of the animal kingdom.
Brass Rat (n.) – A conspicuous hunk of gold that most MIT students and alums wear on a finger; colloquial name for MIT’s famous class ring, whose design is unique to each class.
cruft (n.) – (1) Old, mostly-useless junk. Being able to take cruft and make it work again, or do something new and useful, is a badge of honor and a prized skill. (2) Term for alumni who remain socially active at MIT.
Dorm Rush (n.) – See REX.
Engineers (n.) – The proper nickname for MIT’s 41 varsity sports teams.
FSILG (n.) – Catch-all term for MIT’s 27 fraternities, 6 sororities, and 4 independent living groups.
hack (n.) – (1) A clever trick or prank designed to amuse and intrigue people. Examples range from putting a firetruck on the Great Dome to subtly sabotaging the Harvard-Yale football game to many more. (2) An inelegant shortcut to get something done quickly, such as in a computer program.
hack (v). – (1) To explore ordinarily inaccessible or unknown parts of the MIT campus. (2)
hacker (n.) – (1) One who hacks. (2) One who pulls hacks. (3) One who goes hacking.
Harvard Bridge (n.) – The Mass Ave bridge from MIT to Boston, which measures 364.4 Smoots plus 1 ear in length.
Hell (n.) – Rather less affectionate name for MIT.
hosed (adj.) – Flooded with work, as if attempting to drink from a firehose
IAP (n.) – Independent Activities Period. The month of January at MIT, and one of the best times to be on campus.
IHTFP (expl.) – (1) I Hate This F***ing Place. (2) I Have Truly Found Paradise. (3) A paradoxical sentiment, frequently experienced by MIT students, combining the two previous definitions in a varying ratio.
Institute (n.) – Affectionate name for MIT. Sometimes shortened to ‘tute. See Hell (n.)
living group (n.) – Generic term for “where you live,” encompassing all of MIT’s dorms and FSILGs.
Mass Ave (n.) – Massachusetts Avenue, one of Boston and Cambridge’s main thoroughfares, which also happens to run through the middle of MIT.
Mystery Hunt (n.) – The (in)famous weekend-long mind-crushing puzzle competition held annually during IAP.
pset (n.) – Problem set, usually given weekly or biweekly; occasionally written “p-set.”
pset (v.) – See tool (v.)
punt (v.) – (1) To slack off, e.g. by checking Facebook, playing Rock Band, or blogging; often contrasted with tool (v.) (2) To skip something, e.g. a problem set or meeting (“I’m so hosed with 8.022, I’m going to have to punt this 7.013 pset…”); generally bad things happen to students who punt too often.
REX (n.) – Residence Exploration; the time during Orientation for incoming freshmen to explore dormitories to discover which living group suits them best. Pronounced like the dinosaur, never “are-ee-ex.”
Smoot – An unconventional and nonstandard unit of length equal to the height of Oliver Smoot ’62 (5 feet 7 inches), whose body was once used as a yardstick to measure the Harvard Bridge (n.)
Tim (n.) – Name given to MIT’s beaver suit mascot (get it?)
tool (v.) – To work very diligently on academics; often contrasted with punt (v.)
tool (n.) – One who tools.
UROP (n.) – (1) Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program, which cultivates relationships between students and researching faculty; among the first of its kind in the US. (2) A student who participates in research through this program.
unit (n.) – The basic unit of MIT academic credit. A normal class is worth 12 units at MIT, which indicates that the class should require approximately 12 hours worth of time each week (in the classroom, in the lab, and outside of class).
wanking (v.) – self-indulgent pontificating or arguing, full of sound and fury but generally signifying (and accomplishing) nothing; the verb form is wank
Some Important Places
77 Mass Ave – 77 Massachusetts Avenue; the colonnaded primary entrance to campus.
Big Sail – official name of the steel sculpture by Alexander Calder south of the Green Building; according to MIT myth, it was built to block the force of wind coming off the Charles River towards the The Dot – the circle of grass between the Green Building and the Big Sail. Officially (i.e. almost never) called McDermott Court.
Great Dome – one of MIT’s most famous landmarks, not to mention a frequent target for hackers and tourists alike; sits above Lobby 10
Green Building – tallest building in Cambridge and home of Course 12; Building 54.
Infinite Corridor – A hallway through the heart of the Institute, stretching from Lobby 7 (west) through Buildings 3, 10, 4, 8 (east). At one point believed to be the longest contiguous corridor in the world, the Infinite is occasionally treated as a highway.
Johnson – Johnson Athletics Center, where some of your finals will probably be held.
Killian Court – The large and picturesque courtyard in the middle of main campus, surrounded by Buildings 1-4, Building 10, and Memorial Drive. Location of the freshman class photo and Commencement. Pronounced “kill-ee-un.”
Kresge Auditorium – One of MIT’s nicest auditoriums; the exterior is one-eighth of a perfect sphere.
Little Dome – baby cousin to the Great Dome; sits above Lobby 7
Lobby 10 – First floor of Building 10, opening onto Killian Court
Lobby 7 – The large, open atrium that houses the famous inscription of MIT’s mission: “Established for advancement and development of science, its application to industry, the arts, agriculture, and commerce.”
Stata Center – Odd, vaguely alien cluster of towers and other structures. Properly, it should be pronounced “stay-tuh” (rhymes with “beta”). Building 32.
W20 – The (Stratton) Student Center, yet another building more commonly referred to by its number than its name.
Z-Center – Zesiger Center, part of MIT’s comprehensive athletics complex.
6-120 (“six one twenty”) – lecture hall located near the end of the Infinite Corridor
10-250 (“ten two fifty”) – Newly-renovated lecture hall in the center of campus where many freshman GIRs are taught
26-100 (“twenty six one hundred”) – large lecture hall located just off the Infinite
34-101 (“thirty four one oh one”) – lecture hall with bright green seats
54-100 (“fifty four one hundred”) – main lecture hall in the Green Building; accessed by stairs or the “Lower Level” in the building’s main elevator
3.091 – Solid-State Chemistry (“three oh nine fun”)
5.11x – Introductory Chemistry
7.01x – Introductory Biology
8.01 – Physics I: Mechanics
8.02 – Physics II: Electricity and Magnetism
18.01 – Calculus 1: Single-Variable
18.02 – Calculus II: Multi-Variable
18.03 – Differential Equations
x – In this context, used to indicate a family of multiple similar subjects, varying in either difficulty or emphasis. All 7.01x classes are approximately the same difficulty; but 5.112, for example, is harder than 5.111.
GIR(s) – General Institute Requirement(s). Pronounced “gee-eye-our(s).”
HASS – Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences. Pronounced “hass” (not the word “has”).
REST – Restricted Elective in Science and Technology. Pronounced like the word “rest.”
Science Core – The set of GIRs consisting of two semesters of calculus, two semesters of physics, one semester of biology, and one semester of chemistry (in MITese, 18.01, 18.02, 8.01, 8.02, 7.01x, and 3.091/5.11x).
See also hosed, punt, and tool.
GRT – Graduate Residence Tutor; graduate students who actually live in each dorm on campus and serve a variety of roles, from peacekeepers to mentors to providers of free food. Pronounced “gee-are-tee.”
Housemaster – Members of the MIT community who are responsible for providing adult leadership and some extent of oversight to each dorm, in addition to being residents of the dorm’s community. A dorm’s housemasters are usually a professor and his or her spouse.
House Manager – MIT employees responsible for overseeing the upkeep and condition of each dorm. Among other things, they’re the people you call when you need to get that light in your room replaced or when you want permission to paint your room/loft your bed/build a giant roller-coaster in front of the dorm.
RA – Residential Assistant. The equivalent of a GRT, but for FSILGs.
RLA – MIT employees that serve as a valuable resource for a “zone” of 2-3 dorms, providing a range of services from helping with party registration, serving as a mediator between students and administrators, advising house governments, supporting Housemasters and GRTS, and planning events at dormitories.
Living Groups – Dorms
BC – Burton-Conner
EC – East Campus
MacG – MacGregor
McC – McCormick
NH – New House
500 Memorial Drive – Next House
NW35 – the New Ashdown community
SH – Senior House (“Haus”)
Sponge – Simmons Hall
Living Groups – Fraternities
ADP – Alpha Delta Phi
AEPi – Alpha Epsilon Pi
ATO – Alpha Tau Omega
Beta – Beta Theta Pi
DKE – Delta Kappa Epsilon
Delts (DTD) – Delta Tau Delta
No. 6 – Delta Psi
DU – Delta Upsilon
Kappa Sig – Kappa Sigma
LCA – Lambda Chi Alpha
ND – Nu Delta
PBE – Phi Beta Epsilon
Phi Delts (PDT) – Phi Delta Theta
Skullhouse (PKS) – Phi Kappa Sigma
PKT – Phi Kappa Theta
Phi Sig (PSK) – Phi Sigma Kappa
Pi Lam – Pi Lambda Phi
SigEp – Sigma Phi Epsilon
tEp – Tau Epsilon Phi
OX – Theta Chi
TDC – Theta Delta Chi
TXi – Theta Xi
ZBT – Zeta Beta Tau
Living Groups – Sororities
AXO – Alpha Chi Omega
AEPhi – Alpha Epislon Phi
APhi – Alpha Phi
KAT or Theta – Kappa Alpha Theta
Pi Phi – Pi Beta Phi
SK – Sigma Kappa
Living Groups – Independents
ET – Epsilon Theta
WILG – Women’s Independent Living Group
In the interest of full disclosure, I want to mention that some portions of this MITese-English guide are inspired by How To Get Around MIT, the student-produced handbook to the Institute. Often called HowToGAMIT for short, the handbook is distributed to incoming freshmen each year at no charge.
(Shameless plug: Class of 2012, you can and should get your copy of How To Get Around MIT this week. Just look for our table on the first floor of the student center. We’ll be around more or less regularly from 9am-5pm.)
Like most other frosh, I received a copy during my Orientation last year and loved it – so this summer, I decided to get involved in helping produce the next edition of HowToGAMIT. I ended up volunteering to be HowToGAMIT’s treasurer – as well as editing HowToGAMIT’s own, much more comprehensive glossary.
What are your favorite MIT terms and idioms?