My father matriculated, according to my mother, and when I was little, they would talk of "the matric" (pronounced "ma-trick") in the fond tone that I associated with ITMA and cakes made with dried egg.
Yet for all the tea-time familiarity, I never had a clear idea of what matriculation meant. Would I matriculate when I reached puberty? As far as I'm aware, it never happened. And unless they kept it to themselves, none of my friends did either. Matriculation was clearly something that happened before the war.
By and by, I stopped worrying about it. Then one day, I woke up to find matriculation all over the morning papers. Somebody wanted to resurrect it, and it looked as if they might succeed.
Reading the story took me back to those post-war tea-times. There they were, talking about matriculation as if all the world and her cat used the word constantly. What they had in mind, I gathered, was a diploma for school-leavers. So why didn't they call it that? Why evoke the "matric" of olden times?
It was, I supposed, the best word for the job. "Certificate of achievement," is how my dictionary would no doubt define it. "Formerly educational use." Imagine my surprise, therefore, when I teased "matriculation" out from its hiding place between "matricide" and "matrimony", and found that it never meant anything of the sort.
From way back in the 1500s, I read, matriculation has been about admittance. A matricula was a register of people belonging to an order, society or university, and the whole thing has to do with a matrice or matrix.
In Latin, matrix referred to "a female used for breeding", and in later incarnations, it came to mean womb, register, roll, and "a place or medium in which something is bred or developed"; hence the connection with admission to Alma Mater, the "bounteous mother" that is your old university.
So why resurrect "matriculation"? To evoke a golden age of education? Let it rest in peace and, instead, go for a term that means something to everyone. Only one word fits the bill, of course. Cerstificate.