“55 Across(10 letters) Nepotism”

“Old school tie”

I grew up in America reading English books, that is to say books that had been written in England. I was so clueless about this distinction that when I got to college I took English 10, the introductory course, which omitted any books written in the United States. I had made no distinction between American books and English ones. I also was pretty oblivious to distinctions in both meaning and spelling. For instance, I was frequently corrected for spelling gray as grey and theater as theatre.

This morning’s crossword puzzle reminded me of a phrase that was my nemesis throughout my childhood. Every time there was a mention of “old school ties” I was baffled. Why were they so focused on OLD ties anyway? And even if I began to think maybe it referred to ties from a boy’s OLD SCHOOL, I still had no clue to what the author was suggesting.

The crossword puzzle writer apparently has decided that the phrase simply means “nepotism.” But after sitting down with the dictionary, I seem to understand that the phrase is more nuanced than that. As far as I can gather, the wearing of a tie from one’s old school signals something to another person about one’s background and position in society. This allows favoritism, or nepotism, to a fellow tie wearer. So the phrase plays on two meanings of the word “tie,” both the literal object and the reference to connection.

But I am hopeful that a genuine English speaker can help me further clarify this phrase. After all, I speak American.

28 thoughts on ““55 Across(10 letters) Nepotism”

  1. You are quite right! Old school tie refers to boys who went to the same school – so if you were an old Etonian you’re far more likely to give another old Etonian a bit of help career wise (for example) – even if you weren’t at school at the same time as them, but several years part. It’s a bit clubby/cliquey.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. That should of course say ‘apart’. Oh, and the other thing is that a lot of private schools, and some of the grammar schools, refer to their former pupils as ‘old whatevers’. For example King’s Taunton – which is actually a public school, which of course is something else which has a different meaning either side of the pond – are old Aluredians.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Much the same applies with Regimental ties and titles where someone may hope, even expect, to get preferential treatment or service because of where they went to school, or which Regiment they served in, or what place in society they believe they have. The overall term is, perhaps, perceived entitlement, but definitely “unfairness” (which fits the 10 letters). A particularly male trait!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Old school ties were once known to gain favour when worn in court if you are on trial. If it so happened that the judge recognised the tie from his old school, you might well get a lighter sentence.

    I think it was very unkind of them to correct your accurate spelling. 🙂

    Best wishes, Pete.

    Liked by 3 people

  5. I am American too. Old school ties certainly goes beyond nepotism and is about class and which top school one attended. I find that my favorite authors are all English, P.G. Wodehouse, Anthony Trollope and C.S. Lewis (born in Belfast). The illustration you use could go in a Wodehouse novel.


  6. This is interesting. I always looked upon it as showing your school’s pride and wanting others to know you were a student. Granted, it was generally for the upper class and prestigious schools, but I always looked upon it as a positive, not necessarily nepotism.


  7. Yes, having English “ties” here in Australia, being a part of the Commonwealth, we are very familiar with that term.

    But here we call it the “old boy’s network” or “old girl’s network”.
    It’s favoritism pure & simple to those members who went to the same Posh private school.

    Especially noticeable in political circles but also evident in professional areas such as Medicine.
    A blessed New year to you Elizabeth,


      1. Yes, definitely not a phrase I was familiar with as its origin is steeped in English culture. We tend to say ‘old boys network’ without the ‘tie’ on this side of the pond! Good thing I don’t do crossword puzzles! 🙂


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