College Grads Should Know Better

A locution that drives me up the (ivy covered?) wall is graduate college, with the preposition from ripped from its middle and discarded like an empty beer can. An equal opportunity offender, this truncated phrase also withholds from from graduating high school seniors and any other students lucky enough to receive a diploma.

What concerns grammarians doesn’t bother a great portion of the population in the least, but die-hard defenders of standard speech stand on very firm ground: the verb graduate has both a transitive (active) form and an intransitive (inactive) form, and it is the school acting to graduate a student, not the other way around.

Nevertheless, even the preferred graduate from college didn’t make the grade until well into the twentieth century; until then the standard (though fading) construction was “Clarence was graduated from college.” Again, it was understood that it was college administrators, rather than Clarence, who brought the graduation about.

Discarded prepositions are hardly habitual wreakers of havoc, but toying with these usually vital parts of speech is a bad idea. Indeed, dropping them indiscriminately could have us saying the exact opposite of what we mean. Admittedly, all three of the following examples venture into the extreme, but they still hold water (if only a few drops): “got the bus” for “got off the bus”; “developed sugar” for “developed from sugar”; “moving it” for “moving past it.” So isn’t the better course to move past graduate college and reinsert the requisite from?

2 Responses to College Grads Should Know Better

  • Erik Kowal says:

    I think it’s accurate to say that Americans have a reputation for their no-nonsense directness of communication compared, say, with their generally more long-winded and circumlocutory British cousins.

    This appears to me to be a case where many Americans have dropped the preposition because it is redundant — there can be no doubt about the meaning of graduate college, even though it still sounds alien to my (British) ears. The same applies to flunk class (versus flunk out of [the] class).

    The reason that nobody says got the bus when they mean got off the bus; developed sugar when they mean developed from sugar; or moving it when they mean moving past it is that in those expressions, the function of the preposition in qualifying the verb so that it generates an unambiguous meaning is indispensable. This is not the case with graduate college, whose meaning remains clear and unambiguous even when the preposition is dropped.

    That said, graduate college still grates on my ears, but that’s a problem which relates to me, not to the expression.

  • Fred says:

    Good points, Erik. When coming with the three examples in the final paragraph I knew I was overstating the case — and thanks to you I’ve added a qualifier.

    Also, who said “graduate college” twice in the SOTU speech last night? None other than Harvard Law magna cum laude graduate President Barack Obama. I know that no clarity of communication was in danger of being impaired (as you wisely note in your comment), but I also know I’ll stick with the “from” forever.

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