As students at the College of William and Mary, we all cherish the same rectangular, verdant quad on Old Campus. It is the campus’s anchoring point, home to both sunbathers and streakers; it has witnessed the best of students walking onto the College’s hallowed grounds for the first time as an undergraduate during Convocation and begrudgingly seen students through their worst as they vomit on its soft, cushy grass after a tumultuous night. It is the lifeblood of the College.
However, given how integral this odd, depressed, rectangular lawn is to our daily lives, it is inexplicably strange that students are sharply divided on how to properly address it. Some at the College swear that the rectangular expanse should only be referred to as the Sunken Garden. Others vehemently disagree, arguing that the presence of several small brick paths throughout the quad suggests the existence of multiple gardens, causing them to dub the space the “Sunken Gardens” instead. Discourse is ferocious over which moniker is most appropriate, but historical context is imperative in understanding this lawn quandary.
In 1935, students at the College were issued an “Indian Handbook,” which publicized information about academic buildings, residence halls and weekly social events. Offensive title aside, the handbook contained one of the first official references to the rectangular quad, which was constructed from 1922-1935. The handbook exclusively distinguishes the large lawn as the Sunken Garden, and makes no reference to it using the plural form. It was clearly originally conceptualized as a singular entity, which begs the question as to when students at the College began viewing the large expanse as more than one garden.
While available historical records may point towards calling the college’s quad simply the Sunken Garden, it is no longer so in the vernacular of most students at the College. Instead, students have begun to use the plural version “Sunken Gardens” or the incredibly common abbreviation “Sunky Gs,” still in the plural. Several polls of various areas of the student body reveal that most students refer to it in the plural form, either the full version or the abbreviated version. “Sunken Gardens” is by far the most popular option, but “Sunky Gs” is often a close second. There is still certainly a sizable minority of the student body who choose to use Sunken Garden to refer to it, so that phrasing is certainly not obsolete. Most interestingly, several students discussing the vernacular with me said they think the usage of “Sunky Gs” came first, and thus naturally requiring the usage of the plural full form.
“I think I call it the ‘Sunken Gardens’ because I call it the ‘Sunky Gs,’ not the other way around,” Maddy Wade ’21 said.
Other students who use the formal plural argue that it is because the multiple sections that are divided by the brick walkways make it as though it is made up multiple gardens, thus making the plural form perfectly natural.
Zach Schiffman ’20 voiced a minority opinion, saying that while he used the plural in the abbreviated form, when using the full-length version he used the singular Sunken Garden.
Official student organizations like AMP also use the singular Sunken Garden. Even the Flat Hat style guide uses Sunken Garden. However, the representative verbiage of most of the student body seems quite clearly to be “Sunken Gardens,” but there is most certainly a sizable minority who happily refer to it as the Sunken Garden.
Perhaps it is simply because there is no correct version, but that is not a satisfying answer to students on either side. While the historical answer may seem clear to some students, there is also the undeniable fact that “Sunken Gardens” is what rolls off of the tongue of many students without a second thought.
Despite diverse student perspectives, the College still uses Sunken Garden in official contexts. The College’s webpage, online style guide and school-sanctioned maps continue to refer to the quad in its singular form; it remains to be seen if the Sunken Garden moniker will go the way of the Tribe’s “feathers” logo and fade into irrelevance, or if “Sunken Gardens” and its seemingly ubiquitous partner “Sunky Gs” will fizzle out within the next decade. Or, as language is an ever-changing beast, perhaps when we return for our fiftieth anniversary of our college graduations, we shall return to a lawn with a completely different nickname.