Word Wednesday: “Student/Pupil”

studentonbooksReturning to our “back to school” theme of this month (see my August 28 and Sept.4 and 11 posts), we consider the words “student” and “pupil” for our Wednesday word feature today. I haven’t paid attention to or understood the difference between these two words until I read the entry for it in Bill Brohaugh’s Unfortunate English recently. So today we all learn the difference. Here is Brohaugh’s explanation:

Students are likely more comfortable with their situations than pupils learning the same things.

Though ‘pupil’ and ‘student’ are considered synonyms today, the words have etymological differences, one minor but significant, the other, huge. The minor one first: Students study – that’s abvious from the similarity of the words – and they have studied since the beginning of the word (by the late 1300s). Contextually, students are also taught. Pupils are taught, and contextually they also study. The difference here lies first in that the word ‘student’ implies self-motivation (as in ‘studious’?! -cjt), while ‘pupil’ connotes tutelage (and there’s certainly nothing wrong with that). By the mid-1500s, ‘pupil’ meant one who is under the instruction of another, in the educational care of another.

But that meaning is an evolution of the original meaning of ‘pupil’, in use by the late 1300s. And herein lies  the huge difference.: A pupil was someone in a different situation, under a different sort of care.

A pupil was an orphan and  a minor, and therefore a ward under the care of someone else (emphasis mine -cjt).

So a student is more comfortable with her situation because she most likely still has parents (pp.85-86).

Isn’t that interesting? Nothing wrong, then, with being a pupil. But aren’t you glad, children and young people, that you are students, under the care and guidance of your parents – and teachers who stand in the place of your parents? I hope you are students also in the sense that you are self-motivated! But, whether students or pupils, be studious! Check out the entry in Dictionary.com for “pupil” to learn more!

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  1. […] students, even good pupils (Remember my post on this word last time from Brohaugh?), are likely good […]


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