« previous post | next post »

When I saw a large sign reading "ABSOLUTORIA 2018" on a vaguely ecclesiastical-looking building in Poznań last week, my first ignorant thought was that maybe there was a sort of special on indulgences. But that was wrong, and so was my second thought that it might be a vodka festival.

A quick inspection of the building's smaller signage identified it as part of Adam Mickiewicz University, and suggested that "absolutoria" in this context means graduation ceremonies. A Polish-English dictionary confirmed this inference, and the site absolutoria.poznan.pl offers pictures.

Of course absolutorium is a Latin word rather than a Slavic one — or rather a Latin-ish word, since it's unknown to Lewis & Short and to the Oxford Latin Dictionary.

But the formation makes sense — specifically, the sense of absolvo that Lewis & Short gloss as

In technical lang., to bring a work to a close, to complete, finish (without denoting intrinsic excellence, like perficere; the fig. is prob. derived from detaching a finished web from the loom) […] Hence, absŏlūtus , a, um, P. a., brought to a conclusion, finished, ended, complete .

Perhaps readers can tell us if this usage is specific to UAM, or to Poland, or to some wider cultural or linguistic circle.



  1. BZ said,

    June 21, 2018 @ 11:52 am

    If I saw this I would assume this could mean just about anything, like Extravaganza perhaps. Something that normally needs more context, but is meaningful to the locals (Searching for Extravaganza 2018 gives https://aspb.as.ucsb.edu/2018/04/26/extravaganza-2018/ as the first result, which is well within my expectations).

  2. cameron said,

    June 21, 2018 @ 12:28 pm

    The English wikipedia page for "Graduation" has links to the corresponding pages in a good number of other languages – but not to Polish. If I go to the Polish wikipedia and search for "absolutorium" I find there is a (short) page, and that it is linked to corresponding pages in German and Czech. Of these pages, the one in German offers me the advantage of being not completely illegible.


    So, the word is used in Germany, Poland, and the Czech Republic (possibly elsewhere, Poland and the Czech Republic are offered as "z.B") but the word has somewhat different senses in the various places it is used.

  3. Philip Taylor said,

    June 21, 2018 @ 12:29 pm

    Perhaps cf. https://pl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Absolutorium

  4. Andy said,

    June 21, 2018 @ 1:26 pm

    Well, it is a proper Latin word, in that Lewis and Short have absolutorius, meaning 'pertaining to acquittal, release'. (At the bottom of the same entry there is in fact absolutorium, here meaning 'a means of deliverance from'.) Du Cange also has absolutorium, here meaning 'quittance'.

  5. g said,

    June 21, 2018 @ 1:42 pm

    "Абсолюторія" is a word used fairly commonly in Ukrainian, primarily in organizational contexts. The governing board or council of an organization finishes its term, submits its final report, receives "абсолюторія" and the new governing members are elected.

  6. Andy said,

    June 21, 2018 @ 2:15 pm

    A desultory bit of googling found the word in German, Czech and Hungarian, apart from Polish. I found the financial sense attested in Du Cange (a document certifying quittance) in German from the 19th century, and absolutorium is also a financial term in modern Polish, meaning something like 'an audit of a governmental body to ensure financial probity'. Presumably the educational sense developed later on, the idea being that once you've fulfilled all the requirements to complete your course of study, you can be 'discharged' of your responsibilities as a student. It evidently can mean slightly different things depending on the country or educational establishment; in Poland, for example, the absolutorium is the stage when you've finished all of your courses and whatnot, but have yet to hand in and defend your thesis; in German, it's an old-fashioned name for the Abitur, among several other things.
    I couldn't find any references to an actual ceremony or party outside of Polish; but I looked at one Polish article discussing the ceremonies, and it mentioned that they had been taking place only 'for several decades'.

  7. languagehat said,

    June 21, 2018 @ 4:37 pm

    This reminds me vividly of my similar adventure with “paranymph” (spoiler: it means 'main or central hall of ceremonies [university]').

    [(myl) At Dutch universities, or at least at the University of Groningen, paranymph means a person supporting and protecting a student defending their dissertation, who is also responsible for organizing a celebratory meal. Wikipedia defines it more broadly as a "ceremonial assistant or coach in a ceremony".]

  8. David Marjanović said,

    June 21, 2018 @ 5:04 pm

    The German Wikipedia article places the word in the unspecified past, citing sources compatible with the word dying out around WWI. That would explain why I've never encountered it.

  9. Tadek said,

    June 21, 2018 @ 5:39 pm

    I graduated from University of Warsaw and can confirm that this usage is at least specific to Poland.

    To have an absolutorium means that you've finished higher education without a diploma i.e. you've passed all of your final exams but haven't submitted a bachelor/master/phd thesis yet.

    In Polish universities you have two years to submit your thesis once you got absolutorium. After two years you have to take additional courses to make up for "curriculum differences".

    PS Hey! It's my first comment on Language Log :)

  10. Andy said,

    June 21, 2018 @ 6:04 pm

    @languagehat: Great word, cheers for that!!

  11. Christian Weisgerber said,

    June 22, 2018 @ 7:24 am

    This German doesn't know Absolutorium either, whether in a university context or otherwise. If you look it up at DWDS.de, the first definition is marked "obsolete", the second "Austrian". The corpus attestations are consistent with the word dying out around WWI, as David already suggested.

  12. Vilinthril said,

    June 22, 2018 @ 8:41 am

    As an Austrian, I honestly can't vouch for this word still being actively used. I absolutely believe it would have lived on far longer here than in Germany, though.

  13. Fionnbharr Ó Duinnín said,

    June 22, 2018 @ 2:18 pm

    As Andy notes, the word can also be found in Hungarian as "abszolutórium" meaning something similar to the Polish: the stage before the final viva voce exam, in which students have certified that they have completed all course requirements in order to be given the opportunity to take the final graduation oral exam.
    The Hungarian ministry of education provides a (no longer updated, "elavult") list of translation terms (though, some are fairly dodgy) that translates the Latinate form in to the more Hungarian sounding "végbizonyítvány" and offer the English "pre-degree certificate stating that all course-units have been completed" at: http://www.nefmi.gov.hu/felsooktatas/dokumentumok/felsooktatasban-gyakran
    Hungarian Wikipedia also states that it is used more broadly as a term to denote that one has appropriate accreditation to take a higher degree or undertake a Ph.D. program: https://hu.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abszolutórium

  14. Tadeusz P said,

    June 24, 2018 @ 11:32 am

    I am a native speaker of Polish writing from Poland and I can support what the previous post says. However, while you can use absolutorium in the plural, it would be very rare. I think there is a word play here: the name of student festivities at the end of the academic year is usally juwenalia (juvenalia) (cf. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Juvenalia), so absolutoria suggests festivities just before you finish your studies. This is confirmed by the website of the festivities:
    You can have a look at the pictures here

  15. Tadeusz P said,

    June 24, 2018 @ 11:34 am

    Oops, sorry, had a look at the photos myself. This is actually the graduation ceremony itself.
    I do not recall seeing that name anywhere else in Poland.

  16. Jarek Weckwerth said,

    June 25, 2018 @ 9:43 am

    I'm at AMU, so I can answer the last question: This is a bona fide plural, and I think it's completely unremarkable. The reason is that there are multiple ceremonies (roughly, one for each faculty/department) because there are too many students to fit in the main auditorium in one go (especially when they're accompanied by their significant others, parents, friends, etc.).

    (As an LL regular, I'm very happy to see my alma mater mentioned ;) and quite ashamed I never made it to Prosody…)

RSS feed for comments on this post