Word Nerd: 5 words to help you brag about your beautiful campus

4 Sep

They don’t make buildings like they used to any more. No, really, they literally don’t. That’s why most of us have no idea what to call those little decorative thingies. You know, those fussy-looking thingummyjigs above the whatchamacallit. Problem is, unless we have a particular interest in historical architecture, we are unlikely to know the words to describe the beauty that we see.

But if you plan to go abroad to study, there’s a pretty good chance you’ll be surrounded by centuries-old buildings with gables and gargoyles and whatnot. So here are a few words you can use when you brag about your beautiful campus to friends back home. Toss one of these words casually into the conversation, and then enjoy watching your friends react like this:

1. Quoin. This refers to an angle on a building’s exterior. Quoins can be accented with paint or simply the natural color contrast of the building materials. Quoins make buildings look more interesting.

2. Oriel. An oriel is a large, protruding upper-storey window. Like any window, it lets in light, but unlike ordinary windows, it beautifies the exterior.

Quoins and an oriel on a building of the University of Pennsylvania

3. Vaulted ceiling.
Flat ceilings do their job of preventing the sky from falling on your head, but they look boring. That’s why the grandest, fanciest buildings have vaulted ceilings that create a ton of headroom. It’s not the most energy-efficient feature, but then people in previous centuries didn’t have to worry about climate change as we do. And vaulted ceilings are nothing if not beautiful.

Vaulted ceiling at the University of Sydney

Vaulted ceiling at the University of Sydney (photo by Jason Tong, used under CC license)

4. Mullioned window.
A mullion is a vertical division between parts of a window (or a door, or a screen). Mullions are usually a decorative way of providing support while letting in more light. Without them, windows would be smaller, especially in old buildings with heavy masonry.

Building with mullioned windows on the University of Pennsylvania campus

Building with mullioned windows on the University of Pennsylvania campus

5. Nave.
Not to be confused with knaves found in the world outside, naves are found in cruciform churches (‘cruciform’ means built in the shape of a cross). The nave is the long central part of the church where worshippers sit. Straight ahead is the apse, the semicircular ‘top’ of the cross shape, where the altar is. Going off at right angles on either side are two short transepts.

A Google Maps 3D view of the cross-shaped Basilica of the Sacred Heart at Notre Dame University. The apse is on the  left, and the nave, going off to the right, ends in a tall steeple


Interior of basilica withornate blue and gold vaulted ceiling

The vaulted ceiling of the nave of the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, Notre Dame University (photo by Eccekevin, used under CC license)


Are you looking for a word to describe a building? Email us a photo, or just share a link to one in the comments below!

Want to expand your vocabulary? Check out more of our Word Nerd posts!


By: BrainGain Magazine Staff Writer


Check out these links!

A unique college for the Building Arts
Become an Architect, Italian Style
How to be a good architect – Q&A with Prof. Helen Lochhead, University of New South Wales
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5 zany words with a Z that will expand your vocabulary
Why is spam called spam?

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