I like the creative names on SE badges, but a couple of them went over my head. What is "mortarboard"?

  • 1
    @kzh: I had considered that, but my question has more to do with how the word "mortarboard" relates to the badge than the badge itself. That is an English question. The name of the badge is more in English territory, and the workings of the badge, what it does, etc, is more into meta territory.
    – Daniel
    Jun 27, 2011 at 16:10
  • You are absolutely right.
    – kzh
    Jun 27, 2011 at 16:20
  • @kzh: Thanks for conceding; I wasn't going to fight about it!
    – Daniel
    Jun 27, 2011 at 16:21
  • @kiamlaluno: I did say "where did the name come from".
    – Daniel
    Jun 27, 2011 at 17:05
  • Yes, but the question title is about a badge, while the question is about the word mortarboard. In other words, you are asking "what does mortarboard, used to name a badge in SE sites, mean?"
    – apaderno
    Jun 27, 2011 at 17:09
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    For the record, I think this should have stayed on the main site. The question asks, "What is a mortarboard?" and uses the badge as an example of use. This, as far as I know, has nothing to do with Meta.
    – MrHen
    Jul 15, 2011 at 14:47
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    @MrHen The question, as originally stated, had an overbearing focus on SE. Assume that the question had had such a focus on another site—in that case, I would have had to have closed it as "too localized" or "off topic". If the question had merely asked what a mortarboard was in more general terms, it would be "general reference". And I couldn't just leave it be because it was flagged, so I did my best to rescue the question. (By the way, this follows from a general policy at MSO).
    – waiwai933
    Jul 15, 2011 at 18:49
  • @waiwai: Fair enough. I guess I more think it doesn't belong here than I think it belonged on the main site. As in, I am not sure it belongs anywhere but I get the feeling it doesn't belong here.
    – MrHen
    Jul 15, 2011 at 18:50
  • @waiwai, @MrHen: You're both right. I could have looked it up and applied the metaphor, to an extent, myself. The answer here is helpful, though.
    – Daniel
    Jul 15, 2011 at 19:10

2 Answers 2


A mortarboard is the name of the cap worn by someone graduating (e.g., from high school or college).

From thefreedictionary (definition 2), a mortarboard is:

An academic cap topped by a flat square.

Presumably it was chosen for the particular badge of, "Earned at least 200 reputation in a single day" to symbolize a degree of academic merit.

  • Oh, so it's a type of graduation. Thanks!
    – Daniel
    Jun 27, 2011 at 15:45
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    Not exactly; it's less about "graduation" and more about recognizing academic merit. It takes some effort to hit the reputation cap on most SE sites; you're either answering a lot of questions or posting a few really good answers which garner a lot of upvotes in one day. The mortarboard cap worn in academic ceremonies is a similar symbol of academic achievement, so the term was used for the badge.
    – KeithS
    Jun 27, 2011 at 15:49
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    In the UK, where we do not have the concept of "graduating" at the high school level (only at University), the mortarboard is much more strongly associated with schoolteachers than students. Although teachers have not worn them in my time (55 years), they still do so in the pages of comics like "The Beano" (beano.com/characters/bash-street-kids). So to me, "mortarboard" means "teacher", not "excellent student"
    – Colin Fine
    Jun 27, 2011 at 17:15
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    @Colin, a mortarboard means a graduating student, not an excellent one. (If statistics are to be believed, most graduates these days are not, in fact, excellent students.) But the image is still academics, which is what the badge name is trying to convey. I think.
    – Marthaª
    Jun 27, 2011 at 18:32
  • @Martha, or a graduated student, which is why professors also often wear mortarboards to graduating ceremonies (at least when they sit up on stage). Not that this changes anything, though. (A graduating student wears her tassel on the right, and a graduated student wears her tassel on the left.) Jun 27, 2011 at 18:40
  • Excellent example of a metaphor that is totally insensitive to cultural diversity.
    – CesarGon
    Jun 27, 2011 at 19:09
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    @CesarGon: I don't know how this is any more or less insensitive than most metaphors. I'm hard-pressed to come up with any metaphor that translates well across all cultures. Jun 27, 2011 at 19:55
  • @Ben Hocking: amazon.com/Metaphors-We-Live-George-Lakoff/dp/0226468011
    – CesarGon
    Jun 27, 2011 at 22:32
  • @CesarGon: It sounds interesting, but can you give me an example of a metaphor that is culturally sensitive in a way that this mortarboard metaphor is not? I'm not disbelieving that you can think of one, but I can't think of one, at least not right now. Jun 27, 2011 at 23:12
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    @Ben Hocking: You don't need to be explicitly culturally-senstive; you just need to be culturally-neutral, and "mortarboard" is not. Some examples: we devour a book of raw facts, try to digest them, stew over them, let them simmer, regurgitate them in discussions, cook up explanations, hoping they do not seem half-baked. We establish a foundation for our theories, support them with strong arguments, buttressing them with facts, hoping they will stand.
    – CesarGon
    Jun 28, 2011 at 7:26
  • @CesarGon - I find all your cooking metaphors deeply offensive to raw food vegans
    – mgb
    Jul 15, 2011 at 16:27
  • @Martin Beckett: Well, yeah, and I find the fact that you tell me this on a digital medium deeply offensive to luddites and the anti-technology movement. Let's keep it sane, please.
    – CesarGon
    Jul 16, 2011 at 9:05

One of these:

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The shape comes from the board used to hold mortar in bricklaying or pastering

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It's used as a hat at university graduation to remind you how much more you would have made if you had a trade.

  • lol. I taste a hint of sour grapes here...
    – T.E.D.
    Jul 15, 2011 at 12:59
  • @T.E.D ironically plastering is the one skill I haven't picked up in a career as an experimental physicist. Plumbing, shop class, glass blowing, scaffolding, concrete mixing etc all part of big science!
    – mgb
    Jul 15, 2011 at 15:51

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