The Meaning of Alma Mater: What It Is and How To Use It

Do you know the definition of alma mater? This article will provide you with all of the information you need on the word alma mater, including its definition, usage, word origin, and more!

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What does the term alma mater mean?

According to Vocabulary and Collins English Dictionary along with many other English dictionaries like the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, the term alma mater is a Latin phrase that refers to one’s old school, college or university that they graduated from. This is a positive term that implies reverence and loyalty to the institution. Literally translated from Latin, this phrase means “nourishing mother” or “bountiful mother.” This was first used in c17 Britain to refer to one’s university. Someone could say their alma mater is Cambridge, the University of Bologna (Alma Mater Studiorum Università di Bologna, the oldest European university), Texas Christian University, the University of Salzburg Austria (Alma Mater Europaea), the Alma Mater Lipsiensis in Leipzig, Germany, the University of Poland (Alma Mater Jagiellonica) the European Academy of Sciences, USU, and more American, international university, and European universities, per Educalingo. The pronunciation of alma mater is äl-mə mä-tər.)

This term was originally used as an honorific for various mother goddesses, and in Catholicism, has been associated with the Virgin Mary after the fall of Rome. One can see this in the c11 antiphon “Alma Redemptoris Mater.” The term alma mater can also refer to a school’s official song, also known as a fight song or pride song emblem. Nowadays, this term is associated with the intellectual nourishment that a university like mother Cambridge can provide, such as the Latin phrase Alma Mater Cantabrigia which is seen on the title-page of a book A Golden Chain by William Perkins. This inscription is seen on a pedestal bearing a nude, lactating woman wearing a mural crown, per The Idioms.

Many different languages also contain words that mean the same thing as the word alma mater (al-mə mä-tər.) You may notice that some of these words look and sound similar to one the term alma mater since it is taken directly from Latin. These are called cognates, which are words that look and sound similar across languages while also retaining the same meaning. These are often formed when two words have the same root or language of origin such as Latin or Greek. This list of translation of alma mater is provided by Word Sense, but you could also find these in a German Dictionary, Spanish Dictionary, or French electronic resource. 

  •  Russian: а́льма-ма́тер‎
  •  Korean: 모교‎ (母校‎)
  •  Finnish: alma mater‎
  •  Japanese: 母校‎ (ぼこう, bokō), アルマ・マータ‎ (aruma-māta)
  •  Catalan: alma mater‎ (fem.)
  •  French: alma mater‎ (fem.)
  •  Indonesian: almamater‎
  •  Portuguese: alma mater‎ (fem.)
  •  Mandarin: 母校‎ (mǔxiào)
  •  German: Alma Mater‎ (fem.)

How can the word alma mater be used in a sentence?

The term alma mater can be used in many different ways in the English language. Using words in a sentence is a great way to memorize their definitions. You can also try making flashcards or quizzes for yourself to text your knowledge. Below are a few examples of alma mater to get you started using this word in a sentence!

He visited the university press of his alma mater, Princeton University. He reminisced on the times he spent in the newspaper room, and the program director still remembered his full name.

The Tyler Library was built at his alma mater, Santa Monica College, at the hands of his father. No one knew his father had decided to trifle with the register to get him admitted to school.

He met up with the notorious practical jokers of his alma mater. They had kept in touch in a general sense over long distance, but it felt good to see them in person and share stories of sincerity.

What is the origin of the term alma mater?

According to Etymonline, the term alma mater has been used since late c14 Latin, and literally translates to “nurturing mother. “ This title was originally given to certain goddesses by Romans – esp. Ceres and Cybele – and this term comes from the Latin alma, the feminine version of almus, meaning “nurturing.” This comes from the Latin alere, a verb meaning to nourish or rear, from Proto-Indo-European roots. This is paired with the Latin māter meaning mother. This has been used to refer to one’s previous institution, university or school since 1710 during the first university-related usage in a remembrance of Henry More by Richard Ward. 

What are synonyms of the term alma mater?

There are many different words that a person can use in place of the word alma mater. These are called synonyms, which are words and phrases that have the same meaning as another word or phrase. Synonyms are useful to know if you are trying to expand your English language vocabulary as well as if you are trying to avoid repeating yourself. This list of synonyms for the word alma mater is provided by Thesaurus

  •  institute
  •  place of graduation
  •  old school
  •  lyceum
  •  institution
  •  association
  •  halls of ivy
  •  university
  •  place of matriculation
  •  college
  •  halls of knowledge
  •  seminary
  •  academy
  •  brainery
  •  organization

Overall, the 17th century allegorical Latin phrase alma mater (ăl-ma ma-ter) refers to one’s former school or place of learning. This can also refer to the anthem of an institution of higher learning, and was used as an epithet of certain goddesses in Ancient Rome. Literally translated, this means generous mother. This comes from the Latin Alma Māter.

Sources:

  1. alma mater: meaning, origin, translation | Word Sense 
  2. ALMA MATER Synonyms: 7 Synonyms & Antonyms for ALMA MATER | Thesaurus 
  3. alma mater | Origin and meaning of phrase alma mater | Online Etymology Dictionary 
  4. alma mater – Dictionary Definition | Vocabulary 
  5. Alma mater definition and meaning | Collins English Dictionary 
  6. alma mater meaning, definition, examples, origin, synonyms | The Idioms 
  7. ALMA MATER – Definition and synonyms of alma mater in the English dictionary | Educalingo