Editor's Letter

An In-Between Anniversary

The UW celebrates more than a sesqui, less than a bi.

UW–Madison 175th emblem next to the clawed feet of a Bucky Badger statue

The UW was born along with the state itself. Chris Flink

This academic year, UW–Madison is celebrating its 175th anniversary. The UW was born along with the state itself, or shortly afterward: article 10 of the Wisconsin constitution, ratified on March 13, 1848, calls for the creation of a public university. On July 26, 1848, Governor Nelson Dewey signed the act of incorporation that brought the UW into being.

Sort of. As a matter of law, the UW existed, but it didn’t have buildings or blackboards or students or teachers. On February 5, 1849, the university taught its first class, and on September 17, 1851, it opened its first building: North Hall. So the 175th anniversary is an approximation, or maybe a reverberating series of echoes of the state constitution.

That’s what campus will be celebrating over the next 11 months. (See here for more information.)

In UW materials, you’ll hear this called the UW’s “demisemiseptcentennial,” a Latinized mathematical equation: 175 is a half (demi) of a half (semi) of seven (sept) hundred years (centennial). Latin, because we’re a university and we want to impress you with our book-learning.

Of course, you aren’t likely to find the word demisemiseptcentennial in the writings of Cicero or any other Latin author, in part because the Romans didn’t think it was worth celebrating 175 years of anything. (At Cicero’s birth, Rome was already 647 years old and preparing to ignore its sesquisescentennial.) If we have to use a pseudo-Latin term for the anniversary, I prefer dodransbicentennial, meaning a quarter short of two centuries, or sesquiseptendecimdecade, meaning 17 and a half times 10 years. But nobody asked me.

In this issue, On Wisconsin pays tribute to the demisemiseptcentennial celebration by quizzing you about the university’s 175 years of achievements. Look for that article on page XXXIV (or here).

Published in the Fall 2023 issue


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