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Brainiac

BU needs men!

And more highlights from the Ideas blog

Man magnet: The pioneering Boston University College of Business Administration.

Boston University Photography

Man magnet: The pioneering Boston University College of Business Administration.

We’re used to hearing about colleges conducting outreach to underrepresented groups—racial minorities, women, kids from Idaho. But men? That was the situation 100 years ago at Boston University, where an almost impossible-to-believe organization called the More Men Movement agitated to change the gender balance on campus.

Boston University Photography

Everett W. Lord, who sold the BU trustees on the idea of a business school.

As an article in last Thursday’s edition of BU Today explained, the BU Class of 1910 featured nine times more women than men, leading the school to be dismissed as a “girls’ college.” This upset some of the school’s proudly male alumni, including Everett W. Lord, who founded the movement and sold the BU trustees on a plan to attract more men. How? Start a business school.

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BU’s College of Business Administration opened in October 1913. It was surfing a new trend: the push for specialized education in accounting, finance, and business, which had previously been taught by apprenticeship. BU became the first school in New England to offer an undergraduate business degree, and from a diversity perspective it was a huge success: 85 percent of the inaugural class was male.

Since then, the College of Business Administration has been renamed the School of Management, and its gender balance is close to even. Overall, though, the campaign didn’t quite carry the day: Women still account for 60 percent of the BU student population.

Just what we wanted, ironic punctuation

Whenever you send someone a sarcastic note, there’s always the concern: What if they don’t realize I’m joking? It turns out that this was a worry even before text messages, e-mail, and the Age of Irony.

A recent article in the New Statesman traced five centuries of effort to come up with an “irony mark” that could be used to indicate your words shouldn’t be taken at face value. Proposed symbols have included an inverted exclamation mark (1668), a “small mark shaped like a Christmas tree” (1842), a reversed question mark (1899), and a “point d’ironie” created by French novelist Hervé Bazin in 1966 that had the shape of “an exclamation mark crossed by a stroke akin to a single horizontal parenthesis.”

Author Keith Houston, who wrote the book “Shady Characters: Ampersands, Interrobangs and Other Typographical Curiosities,” notes that none of these attempts at an irony mark ever made it far—although that hasn’t stopped others from trying. Today new proposed irony marks crop up every couple years—including the ironieteken, a zigzag exclamation point unveiled at a Dutch book festival in 2007. Transparently intended as a publicity stunt, it may have been the world’s first ironic irony mark.

Kevin Hartnett is a writer in South Carolina. He can be reached at kshartnett18@gmail.com.
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