When I was a college student, I would occasionally notice the word emeritus next to a faculty name in the course catalogue. I thought it meant “really old but somehow, God knows how, still teaching,” or something like that. I didn’t know what it meant. Here is a definition, from what might be called a dictionary emeritus, Webster’s New International Dictionary, second edition:
adj . [L., past past. of emerere , emereri , to obtain by service, serve out one’s term, fr. e out + merere , mermeri , to merit, earn, serve. See MERIT.] Retired from office or active duty on account of age, infirmity, or long and faithful service, and honored with a nonofficial position and title corresponding to those held in active service; — esp. of a clergyman or college professor.Yes, merit, and all that. But I like the awkward overtone of penal life in “serve out one’s term.” A professor emeritus has done the time.
A phone call yesterday prompted me to write this post: a friend called, and Elaine asked if she would like to speak to the professor emeritus. Who? Me! I mean I .