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From Alpha to Omega: The Greek Alphabet

Have you ever been talking to members of Greek Life and find yourself saying “What is that?” when they use terms like quota, sweetheart, and little? Well here is a basic guide of Greek Terminology that might help you out.

Alum- Short for Alumna (Female Graduate), Alumnae (Plural Alumna), Alumnus (Male Graduate), Alumni (Plural Alumnus). In Greek Life, Alum are very important because they helped build the organization that we, as current members, are now a part of.  They come visit for important events like Homecoming and Relay for Life, which is always exciting.

Bid- A Bid is an invitation to join an organization. Bids work differently for each organization. Phi Mu Delta, a national fraternity, bids are good for life, meaning they can be accepted at any time. Alpha Sigma Alpha, a national sorority, bids are only good for a year.

Big/Little- You know those girls who scream “LITTLE” as they run across campus and those weird pictures on Facebook of girls squatting in front of each other. Those are what we call “Big” and “Little”. This phenomenon is short for Big Sister/Brother and Little Sister/Brother. Bigs are supposed to help lead the littles through their first semester in their organization and help them get accustomed to Greek Life. Also, on occasion, become their best friend.

Chapter/Colony- Chapters are the established organizations on each campus. Chapter can also refer to the weekly meeting of each organization. Colony is the term for that organization before it has reached chapter status. A colony is new and is trying to establish itself on that campus, and after it reaches its national standards of establishment they become a chapter.

CPC- College Pan-Hellenic Council is made up of 26 sororities in North-America. This includes Alpha Sigma Alpha, Alpha Sigma Tau, and Delta Zeta.

Divine Nine- A specific group of historically black Greek lettered organizations. Together, they are the National Pan-Hellenic Council. Here at Frostburg, we have four out of the nine organizations.

Family Tree- So we talked about Big and Little. Family tree’s are just like normal ancestry. It’s lines connecting bigs and littles that create a family tree. So a grand-big would be your big’s big and a grand-little is your little’s little. These form into large lines of families called “trees”.

Greek- This might seem odd to define something that seems so obvious, but it’s a bit more complicated. Greeks are not just social fraternities and sororities. Being Greek includes academic, professional, and service organizations as well. Kappa Pi is the art fraternity. Still Greek. Phi Sigma Pi: Honors academic fraternity. Still Greek. Tri-Beta: the professional honors biology fraternity. Greek? You bet ya’. Alpha Phi Omega, the service fraternity. Guess what? Still Greek. There is a lot more opportunities to be Greek than many people realize.

Greek Week- One week at the end of spring semester, all of the Greek organizations come together to compete on teams in fun competitions like dodgeball, dance-offs, and capture the flag. This is supposed to help grow bonds of Greek Life in different organizations and have fun.

IFC- North-American Interfraternity Conference is made up of 70 national and international fraternities, including Phi Mu Delta, Kappa Delta Rho, Sigma Alpha Epsilon, and Pi Lambda Phi. Tau Kappa Epsilon has recently left the IFC due to disagreements on raising fees for members.

Letters- In the most obvious sense, it’s the Greek letters used to name the organizations. “Letters” also refer to the large stitched letters on t-shirts that Greeks wear on a regular basis. These shirts are very important to Greeks, not only because you have to custom order them, but they also show your connection to your organization that you care a lot about. Bonus points if your letters match someone else’s.

Nationals- The head honcho, the big cheese, the top dog. Nationals are the umbrella over all the chapters at every university of each organization. They are who helps build chapters, improve chapters, and help them operate. They make the rules, so take it up with nationals.

Paddle- This one is very important, so listen carefully. Paddles, the ore shaped carved piece of wood, is to be painted, given to someone that means a lot to you (like a Big or Little), and then hung on a wall. Paddles are NOT for hazing. Have you ever seen a paddle? They are so intricately decorated and fragile. What would happen to it if someone tried using it on another person? It would break! So, if you see a Greek receiving a paddle, congratulate them, instead of asking them if they are going to beat someone with it.

Quota- This is more complicated. Greek organizations have a lot to do with numbers. They need to have a certain number of members according to their nationals, they can only have so many members according to their campus advisor, and they have to get to the certain number of new members each semester. Quota is the number of new members an organization is striving to get each semester.

Recruitment- There are two different kinds of recruitment. Formal recruitment is done in the Spring semester by the three sororities on campus. It’s similar to March Madness or the bachelorette. It’s a week-long production to help women decide which sorority to join and to help the sororities meet all the women who are considering joining. Informal recruitment is specific to each organization. It’s a much more casual way for people to join. An organization will have a series of events, and at the end, they will give bids to people they want to join. This is how Fraternities do it all of the time, and how the sororities do it in the fall.

Sweetheart- A sweetheart is a non-member of an organization of the opposite gender who becomes affiliated with that organization. For example, a woman can be a sweetheart to a fraternity and a man can be a sweetheart to a sorority. The purpose of a sweetheart is to help the organization in any way they can, like assisting with events, recruitment, and other chapter matters.

TSM- Total Sorority Move. This is a blog about things that apply to sorority girls and greek life in general. It has become a term for anything that is stereotypical for sororities. For example, “I had such a TSM moment with my little last night. We watched House Bunny while painting paddles”.


I hope this guide will help you decipher your Greek friend’s conversations! Try to use some terms in everyday conversation with them and impress your friends with your knowledge of their jargon.




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