Fellows

A Dilbert from 9/7/91 (passed on by Tom Limoncelli):

Betty balks at the title fellow — because she thinks of only one of the three lexical items fellow, informal ‘man, boy’. But there are two others, and the one she’s thinking of is the most recent.

From NOAD2:

informal a man or boy: he was an extremely obliging fellow; a boyfriend or lover: has she got a fellow? 2 (usually fellows) a person in the same position, involved in the same activity, or otherwise associated with another: he was learning with a rapidity unique among his fellows; a thing of the same kind as or otherwise associated with another: the page has been torn away from its fellows. 3 [various subsenses referring to a member of some group distinguished by achievement or excellence] a member of a learned society: he was elected a fellow of the Geological Society;  (also research fellow) a student or graduate receiving a fellowship for a period of research;  British an incorporated senior member of a college: a tutorial fellow; a member of the governing body in some universities.

From my 5/4/15 posting “fellow sisters” on fellow:

[original sense ‘companion’, then the (mostly) academic sense, and then:] eventually [according to the OED] “in some dialects, and in unceremonious colloquial speech (esp. among young men), used without adj. as the ordinary equivalent for ‘man’” (from 1861 on).

The ‘sharing’ uses and the college/university uses continue throughout these developments. It would now not be unreasonable to posit at least three lexical items here [which is, in effect, what NOAD2 does]. We can now say things like all my fellow Fellows are fellows ‘all those who are Fellows with me are men’.

Sense 2 in things like my fellow Americans, sense 3 (the one in the strip) in academic (and sometimes professional) usage, as when New Yorker staff writer Sarah Stillman was named a 2016 MacArthur Fellow (in a “genius grant”). I am a Fellow of various academic societies, all of which have plenty of female Fellows (though some could use more).

You might (justifiably) wonder whether the company Dilbert works for has simply invented a society of fellows just to look good on the gender front. Betty might well balk.

Meanwhile, she’s going with the weight of usage as she’s experienced it — most of the occurrences of fellow she’s encountered are of NOAD‘s sense 1 — while disregarding the other two senses, which are still very much alive, but contextually restricted and much less frequent in speech.

(I note in passing that no one seems to have objected to fellow used to mean ‘guy, man, boy’, despite the fact that it’s a great divergence from the etymological original. But then enthusiasts for etymological absolutism have never been consistent in their peeves.)

One Response to “Fellows”

  1. arnold zwicky Says:

    From Kathryn Campbell-Kibler on Facebook:

    That makes me think of the old story of when Oxley Hall [at Ohio State University] first opened as a women’s dorm [in 1908] and a student wrote home that things were in such chaos that she was sharing a room “with a fellow” and her possibly apocryphal parents were not amused.

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