From the Editor

What's a Yalie?

Pop quiz: what's a Yalie?

We use the term routinely in the Yale Alumni Magazine, as shorthand for "any Yale student, alumnus, or alumna." But recently we received a gracious dissent from James C. Goodale ’55, who wrote, "I view 'Yalie' as a pejorative term. A 'Yalie' is a WASP, blue blood, biased, ancient, with a hyper social thyroid and not particularly intellectual." It reflects class differences, he said, when I called to find out more. It also means "a preppy who is too preppy."

To my ear, He's a Yalie is a straightforward catchall, less quaint than He's an Eli but less aggressively sportif than He's a Bulldog, and as socially acceptable as a basic black dress. Or navy blue blazer. The Oxford English Dictionary definition is simply: "A student or graduate of Yale University."

But "Yalie" may well have started out as an insult. I can't find it in the alumni magazine archives until the late 1960s. Before that, the term is "Yale man," as in "the love that Yale men feel for their alma mater" (1899). Or as in this 1965 sentiment from Michael Medved ’69, ’78LAW, future film critic: after the freshman address, he "wanted to run up to everyone I saw and say, 'Hey you, look at me -- envy me -- I'm a Yale man.'"

Compared with that "Yale man" ideal, "Yalie" sounds like a diminutive. Fred Shapiro, our quotations columnist, discovered the first printed use I know of, in the Harvard Crimson in 1941. It is indeed deeply condescending: "When we were much younger we had the enlightening experience of reading a book about a Yalie named Frank Merriwell."

As an insult, "Yalie" got plenty of use in 1950s New Haven. Judy Schiff, author of our Old Yale column, and Sam Chauncey ’57, secretary of the university during 1971-80, both remember hearing high school boys shouting at Yale students, "If you can't get a girl, get a Yalie!" Goodale recalls another homophobic slur, sung to the tune of "Pop Goes the Weasel": "I used to chase the girls around, but that's quite contrary / Now I chase the boys around. Whoops, I'm a Yalie."

When ideals started shifting in the 1960s, so did semantics. In June 1966, Bill Simon ’69, ’78JD, told the alumni magazine he "had mixed reactions about being a 'Yale Man.' I don't like the . . . mutual admiration society." But he also "had some awful preconceptions of the stereotyped Yalie -- the empty-headed blue-eyed blonde alternately cramming and boozing." That blonde is Goodale's preppy, updated for the era. But regardless of Simon's misgivings, "Yalie" was used increasingly in this magazine through the ’60s. By the mid-1970s it was a regular part of both Yale Daily News diction and ours. Last year, the News used it more than 400 times.

The rise of "Yalie" tracks Yale's social history. When the college went coed, "Yale man" all but died. As Yale evolved, from a college for prep school-educated Easterners to an international research university, the preppy stereotype lost its hold. Even the college-centric subtext ("real" Yalies are undergraduates) faded away; Bryan K. Woods ’11PhD, our graduate-student board member, says "Yalie" is freely used by and for any and all graduate and professional students.

In this way, the high-school jeer lost its sting. We'll keep using it.

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