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In Portuguese, a college diploma is colloquially referred to as a “canudo”, literally a “tube”. This usage is typically semi-dismissive, for example if you want to imply a diploma — the actual piece of paper — for a certain course is worth more than the education it represents.

Is there a similar word in English?

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    General comment (for AmerEn) - I'd say far and away you're going to hear just diploma used colloquially when referring to the physical document. There may be some other slang terms (like sheepskin), but I'd say far and away people just refer to their diploma as just that, diploma.
    – BruceWayne
    Apr 11, 2018 at 19:20
  • Of course, in a way, the word ‘diploma’ is rather like ‘tube’. Nowadays, it is rolled up and presented in a cardboard tube. The word ‘diploma’ in its Greek derivation refers to something (perhaps parchment) folded in two!
    – Tuffy
    Apr 11, 2018 at 21:27
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    @KodosJohnson: I dunno, I'd be dismissive of a diploma whose worth in and of itself (for getting a job, or drawing a salary, or impressing people, or whatnot) is greater than the worth of the education that it was awarded for. That implies that the diploma is not actually meaningful. (Cf. English "diploma mill".)
    – ruakh
    Apr 12, 2018 at 1:25
  • @ruakh Actually now that I read it again, it's glaringly obvious. I've had a long day. I'm just going to delete my comments to save myself the embarrassment ;) Apr 12, 2018 at 1:32
  • not an answer because I have nothing to support it but my own recollection, but I've heard your direct translation ('tube') itself used in exactly this context.
    – Mr.Mindor
    Apr 12, 2018 at 18:03

7 Answers 7

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You'll sometimes hear "a piece of paper" used this way; see https://www.google.com/search?q=went+to+school+for+a+piece+of+paper for plenty of examples.

(But as choster notes: "The expression can be used to dismiss any kind of official document, however, not just diplomas or other educational credentials: marriage licenses, operating certificates, travel visas, building permits, arrest warrants, property deeds, constitutions.")

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    The expression can be used to dismiss any kind of official document, however, not just diplomas or other educational credentials: marriage licenses, operating certificates, travel visas, building permits, arrest warrants, property deeds, constitutions.
    – choster
    Apr 11, 2018 at 21:39
  • @choster: That's a really good point! I've added that to the answer.
    – ruakh
    Apr 12, 2018 at 1:29
  • you also have 'not worth the paper it's written on'
    – jk.
    Apr 12, 2018 at 11:37
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    Yes, I think this is closest to the OP's description of a dismissive term, but on the other hand I do probably hear it in regard to wedding certificates at least as often as diplomas.
    – 1006a
    Apr 12, 2018 at 14:59
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    Accepting this one instead since it seems like “sheepskin” might be somewhat obscure.
    – user137369
    Apr 12, 2018 at 23:11
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It's often said in English to be a 'sheepskin'. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/sheepskin

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    I wouldn't say "often." I have never heard this word used to mean anything besides actual sheepskin
    – bendl
    Apr 11, 2018 at 18:30
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    This is not dismissive which the original question seems to ask for... at least I've never heard it used as such.
    – Sled
    Apr 11, 2018 at 20:22
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    If you're rummaging through your attic and you find your old sheepskin, I surely hope you're talking about a diploma and not a soiled prophylactic.
    – Mazura
    Apr 11, 2018 at 22:35
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    I'd agree that I've heard "sheepskin" as a fairly neutral term, not necessarily derogatory. I'd call it somewhat archaic slang and perhaps "playful" or in some contexts humorous, but not dismissive.
    – Athanasius
    Apr 12, 2018 at 3:56
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    Please edit this to specify the variety of English this is common in (British, American, New Zealand, Indian, etc.) Apr 12, 2018 at 5:35
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Because at one point, diplomas were printed on parchment made from sheepskins, the term “sheepskin” used to refer to them (first recorded in 1804): see the bottom of the page http://www.dictionary.com/browse/sheepskin

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Of course, you could ironically use the term "BS" as a double entendre as in:

Bachelor's of Science

and

Bull Shit.

BS is used in this way in the below Dr. McNinja comic in the fifth panel. enter image description here

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    The problem with this is that you can also get a diploma for an Associate's Degree, or a Master's Degree, or a Doctor of Philosophy degree. And not always in the Sciences; there are Arts degrees and Business Administration degrees and Public Administration degrees, and Law/Jurisprudence degrees, and... I'm sure you get the picture. Apr 13, 2018 at 11:58
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    Tox123 Interestingly enough, I know a fellow who earned a double-major. He, literally, holds a B.S. and B.S. from B.S.U. (Bachelors of Science and Bachelors of Sales from Ball State University). A great deal of B.S. eh? };') Apr 13, 2018 at 12:21
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As an American, sheepskin came immediately to mind, but I think the OP is referring to a worthless Diploma (i.e. Not worth the paper it's printed on).

A prime example in America would be a Diploma from a DIPLOMA MILL "An institution of higher education operating without supervision of a state or professional agency and granting diplomas which are either fraudulent or because of the lack of proper standards worthless. - Webster's Third New International Dictionary". However, I could not find a good slang term for the Diploma itself, just the institution it comes from.

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  • “but I think the OP is referring to a worthless Diploma (i.e. Not worth the paper it's printed on)”. To be clear, I’m not. Quite the contrary can be true. As stated in the question: “the actual piece of paper — for a certain course is worth more than the education it represents”.
    – user137369
    Apr 12, 2018 at 23:05
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union card From Merriam-Webster:

1 : a card certifying personal membership in good standing in a labor union

2 : something that resembles a union card especially in being necessary for employment or in providing evidence of in-group status

Definition #2 is the one that answers the OP's question.

A made-up example of how it might be used:

I'm taking night classes to get my BA, because I'll never get a management job unless I have my union card.

(This is an ironic example, because traditionally, union jobs were always non-management jobs.)

Peter Thiel, billionaire co-founder of PayPal is an extreme example of thinking of a college diploma as unnecessary, even harmful, as described in the Newsweek Article Peter Thiel Thinks You Should Skip College, and He’ll Even Pay You For Your Trouble. Thiel thinks today’s elite universities are overpriced relics and is offering fellowships to uniquely qualified teenagers so that they can pursue radical innovation that will benefit society. The catch: they must drop out of college.

The term is not meant to disparage blue-collar jobs. Indeed, such jobs can be more interesting and more rewarding and require just as much smarts and skills as white collar jobs. But, traditionally, a college diploma was the route to upward mobility, economically and socially, but is less so now, and now often comes with the burden of enormous student loans. I remember the term union card from my own college days, decades ago, when it was much less apt than it is today.

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The Hawaiian word for paper or document, palapala, can be used.

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    Welcome to ELU! This is an interesting answer and not a word I've heard of in common English usage (which is possibly the reason for the downvote, but I wish people would comment when they downvote!). Can you add some references for definition, context or places you've seen it used?
    – Pam
    Apr 12, 2018 at 8:41
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    Down voting because as a native speaker of US English, familiar at some levels with British, Canadian, Indian, and Australian usage, I have never heard this term before. I Googled it and low on the second page of search results I saw a reference to usage as a title deed, not at all the same thing.
    – arp
    Apr 12, 2018 at 14:10

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