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When You Got to Go

In response to:

Einstein as a Jew and a Philosopher from the May 7, 2015 issue

To the Editors:

I went to the same boarding school as Freeman Dyson, and spent most of my time there in the Second Chamber he mentions [“Einstein as a Jew and a Philosopher,” NYR, May 7]. First Chamber, visited by Einstein, was no longer a bathroom, but it was still at that time (the 1960s) a place where boys kept sports clothes and shoes, and the memorial plaques were still on the walls. It also formed the passageway to the college lavatories, or “fos.” I was shown them on my arrival in 1965 by a second-year “man” (boy) who referred to them as quod omnibus necessarium est. There were seven new-looking cubicles with blue doors, which were named after the seven rival birthplaces of Homer. I remember Chios, Rhodes, Colophon, Salamis, Smyrna, Argos, because of their joint hexametrical rhythm. The seventh, I learn from the Internet, was Athens. The word “fo” was derived from Latin forica(s), and the form of abbreviation was standard in the argot of the school. The Dons’ Common Room, for example, was known as Do Co Ro. A more recent popular abbreviation, “mofo,” seems very much in the same spirit.

Galen Strawson
Professor of Philosophy
University of Texas at Austin
Austin, Texas

Freeman Dyson replies:

I thank Galen Strawson for his letter, which describes that very elitist world in which schoolboys at Winchester College lived, speaking a dog-Latin dialect designed to emphasize our kinship with the heroes of the Greek and Roman past. Most amazing to me is the insight that Einstein showed in his comment. “Now I understand: the spirits of the departed pass over into the trousers of the living,” after observing that alien world for only a few seconds. He saw the unique quality of Winchester College, a place where boys live in six-hundred-year-old buildings and feel at home in a culture that goes all the way back through the Middle Ages to Caesar and Homer.