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I understand that the terms Cum Laude and With Honors are interchangeable, but which one is better understood in US and more commonly used?

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Ngrams rarely tell the whole story, but they can be used as one piece of the puzzle. One Ngram suggests that with honors might be more common. That data also seems to match my initial hunch. –  J.R. Sep 27 '12 at 9:18
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Here's another one just to confuse the issue. –  Andrew Leach Sep 27 '12 at 9:20
    
@Andrew: Excellent! That's why I avoid getting dogmatic over the results of an Ngram. –  J.R. Sep 27 '12 at 9:35
    
It often depends on whether the words on the degree are in English or Latin. I suspect that Latin is in decline. –  bib Sep 27 '12 at 12:01
    
@AndrewLeach Actually, magna cum laude means with high honors, so this Ngram give a different picture. –  bib Sep 27 '12 at 12:06

2 Answers 2

up vote 5 down vote accepted

Both forms are well understood by people who care about such matters. You are free to use either.

Still, it is the diploma-granting institution (college or university) that decides whether to use English or Latin. My own baccalaureate was awarded "with highest distinction" — not summa cum laude. If you can find out what words were on the actual diploma, use those. If not, it doesn't much matter.

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Does anyone every get an award sine laude? –  Barrie England Sep 27 '12 at 10:28
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@BarrieEngland: Hahaha. Many ought to be so marked, especially medical degrees. "Q. What do you call the guy who graduated from medical school at the bottom of his class? A. Doctor!" –  Robusto Sep 27 '12 at 10:31

There are some differences in usage. I have never heard a graduate degree being awarded With Honors. "Honors" is for me usually associated with a minimum grade point average (quantitative measure) and "[Summa] Cum Laude" being a discretionary, qualitative measure decided on a case-by-case basis, although it could be based on numbers as well. In this I agree with Dorian:

Most master's programs do not have an honors degree. Since the minimum GPA for maintaining enrollment is a 3.0, there's not such a range of high and low grades, making high scorers the average instead of the exception. Everyone is expected to make good grades in grad school.

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