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The Lewis Legacy-Issue 84, Spring 2000

C. S. Lewis and the Master of University College

by John Bremer
In my article “C. S. Lewis and the Ceremonies of Oxford University,” in The Lewis Legacy for Winter 1999, I refer (p.5) to the term Mugger used by Lewis to designate the Master of his college, Univ. It seemed puzzling then, as my note indicates, but clarification is to be found in the diaries of W.H. Lewis, as reported in Brothers and Friends by Kilby and Mead.

On Sunday, 20 August 1922, Warnie writes: In the afternoon J and I played a single at croquet which had to be abandoned as J had to do a Mugger. (Anglice call on the Master of Univ.) By the way, I find that the name Mugger is not peculiar to McCann [the Master of Univ.–real name Reginald R. Macan] but is Oxford slang for Master.

This is quite in accordance with the English practice of giving abbreviated names or slang names to anything and everything, especially people in authority or with any kind of position. The Lewis family–not just Jack and Warnie–were particularly prone to do this. so that Clive Staples became, for example, Jacksie (at his own request), Jacks, Jack, IT and SPB, while Warnie managed to become the Colonel. Their father was known as the OAB and Pudaitabird, amongst other sobriquets.

While this practice could contain good humor, appreciated by both the namer and the named, it can also contain a certain resentment with an element of belittling. It means that the named person or object cannot be accepted as presented, but needs to be re-named by someone who assumes the authority to do the re-naming. It is clearly a means of control.

What are commonly referred to as colleges at Oxford are not all named colleges; Christ Church is known as The House, and St. Edmunds is a Hall. The Heads of Colleges are not all given the title of Master (which by its initial letter and two syllables readily converts into Mugger); for example, Corpus Christi has a President, as does St. Johns, and Lincoln College has a Rector, and New College and Merton have Wardens, and Christ Church has a Dean, and Oriel a Provost, as does Worcester. They are all Heads of their respective Colleges or Halls or Houses or whatever.

An education isn’t how much you have committed to memory, or even how much you know. It’s being able to differentiate between what you know and what you don’t. –Anatole France