So, I’m sitting here thinking. I do that a lot. It occurred to me how we (many of us) mis-use the words alumni, alumnus, and other forms of the word. For those who don’t know, this word and its various forms refers to a former student of a school. That was its original meaning. It also often is broadened to include a former member of other institutions, like a sports team, musical group, or other organized entity. But people often use the word incorrectly, even seemingly educated people. (Like my mother used to say, a degree doesn’t necessarily mean that one is educated). So, here is my little brief lesson on the distinction.
“My two cousins and I are all alumni of Piscataway State College of Finance.”
In this example, alumni refers to the plural form of graduates of a school regardless of gender.
“Rhonda, Amber, and Phylicia are alumnae of Duke University.”
Here, alumnae refers to groups of female graduates.
Alumnus and Alumna
“Steven was the top alumnus and Alana was the top alumna of their class at Sony Land High School, 2001.”
For this one, alumnus represents one, single male graduate; alumna is one, single female graduate.
Well, have you been using these forms correctly? If not, don’t worry. A lot of people have trouble. The easy way out is to use the abridged version of these words: alum or alums. Some people think these are too informal and ambiguous. You can’t easily tell the gender if you refer to someone as an alum, whereas you’ll always know an alumnus is a man or alumna is a woman. But, if you’re having trouble remembering, alum is acceptable in most instances. With the way people are increasingly dumbing-down (relaxing) language these days, I doubt many would complain.