Oxford etiquette

An Oxford student must be careful about relationships. Romantic attachments between students of the same subject or college are generally a bad idea. They lead to difficult circumstances, for the people involved and those around them. This sentiment is often expressed in the rather crude and loutish phrase “Don’t dip your pen nib in office ink.”

This expression is imperfect in many ways. While I will not presume to psychologically analyse the image (sometimes a pen nib is just a pen nib, after all), the analogy does imply a somewhat questionable attitude towards romantic relationships. The analogy of the ink is problematic, implying as it does that all romantic partners are interchangeable, and easily acquired from a number of high street retail outlets, among them such respectable establishments as Blackwell’s and WHSmith’s. Furthermore, it betrays the flawed line of thought that the fellow students comprising the pool of potential sexual partners exist for no other reason than to satisfy the “nib”– after all, what else can one do with ink? Perhaps a more apt phrase would be something along the lines of “don’t glue your pen nib to a different pen nib without the other party’s full consent, and ensure that your new double-pen does not negatively impact the productivity of your colleagues”. But I digress. Suffice it so say that Oxford etiquette precludes the viewing of human beings as items of stationary.

Nevertheless, the observation that relationships within academic contexts are often ill-advised is a sound one. But if you must enter such a relationship, please maintain your standards of decorum. You may enjoy flirting outrageously over dog-eared copies of Beowulf and making lewd comments about swords, but doing so in a tutorial is very distracting. And for goodness’ sake don’t go… carrying on in the library. Especially when it’s 3am and I’m trying to find one of the more obscure works of T.S. Eliot, which is currently located in the same general area that the two of you are engaged in heavy petting.

Just think about whether such a relationship is healthy, sustainable, and mutually respectful before entering into it, and be as thoughtful about those around you as you would otherwise. You may also wish to invest in a fountain pen. It’s 2015, no-one uses quills any more.

ILLUSTRATION/ Thomas Barnett