The word quasquicentennial, meaning ‘125th anniversary, was engineered by... well, an engineer!
In 1961, Frank W. Hatten of Delavan, Illinois, asked Funk & Wagnalls, publishers of a popular encyclopedia and dictionaries (now online only), what word could be coined to mean 125th anniversary. Tiny Delavan would be celebrating its 125th anniversary in 1962.
Exploring the possibility of a new Latenate word, Dr. Wilford Funk toyed with a number of Latin elements. “The trick is to combine and shorten one of these as ‘sesqui’ was combined and shortened from ‘semis que’ ... On the grounds that it is the least ugly of the set, I would choose ‘quasquicentennial’ (pronounced kwahskwee-) as the new word,” he wrote to Hatten, adding, “this word would not appear in any of our dictionaries until it has established itself in wide currency, even if you should decide to use it.”
Hatten, who had returned to Delavan after a cosmopolitan career as an engineer, took up the challenge of promoting the strange coinage. His campaign succeeded. Quasquicentennial was adopted for celebrations in at least 15 other small Illinois and Iowa towns, and the Detroit Boat Club for festivals that occurred in 1963 and 1964, according to Robert Chapman’s article — The History of “Quasquicentennial” — in a 1965 edition of American Speech.
It’s interesting to discover that nine other attempts to coin a word for 125th anniversary failed to gain a foothold in dictionary usage, Chapman said. As Hatten noted, “the line of 125th anniversaries is moving across the Midwest toward the Pacific Ocean on the trail of the Forty-niners.”
When anniversary organizers try to locate a “brute of a word” to satisfy their need, it’s in the dictionary. Thanks to an engineer.
This anniversary year has special meaning for the School of Engineering and for me.
As we celebrate the School of Engineering’s 125th anniversary during the 2011-2012 academic year — reflecting on past and focusing on the future — this year will mark my 16th and final year as dean of the School of Engineering. I will remain at Vanderbilt, however, and devote my time to teaching, research and professional service.
From my vantage point, I’ve seen tremendous progress. Our sponsored research funds, endowment size and number of scholarships have risen tremendously. The spike in undergraduate and graduate rankings reflects our efforts. The School of Engineering now has 12 endowed chairs — 11 awarded in the past 10 years. There are too many achievements in the past decades to mention here, of course. I hope you’ll take some time to look at our historic timeline on this special website.
I view the future with renewed enthusiasm for the continued progress of the School. After 125 years of growth and transformation, I’m certain the School is poised to expand its national and global reach and reputation. That is truly something to celebrate.
~ Ken Galloway,
Dean of the School of Engineering