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Colin G. ’94

Thanks for your question — and for your close reading of UW-related lyrics. Though used today chiefly with respect to athletics, the word varsity first developed as a shortening of university. Members of a campus community would refer to their institution as “the varsity”— a nickname bred of affectionate familiarity. By the late 19th century, varsity was applied increasingly to university sports, first in England and then in America. Originally, a “varsity team” was the one that was the principal representative of its university; “junior varsity” would have been a backup team. In time, the athletic association became stronger, and today “varsity” and “junior varsity” squads mean best and lesser, regardless of the type of institution they represent. Many of the UW’s traditional school songs were written at the turn of the 20th century, when varsity still applied to the university as a whole, and particularly in a sentimental sense. Thus, when Badgers sing “Varsity” or any other song addressed to varsity, they are singing to the UW.

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