The noun university, as it is used today, first came into the language in 1300 in the Middle English form vniuersite. The Oxford English Dictionary defines the noun university as “an institution of higher education offering tuition in mainly non-vocational subjects and typically having the power to confer degrees. Also: the members, colleges, buildings, etc., of such an institution collectively.”1 The word university can be used as verb, meaning to bring universities to a place; however, this use of the word is obsolete.2 The root of the word university derives from the Latin verb to turn and refers to the idea of bringing together.3 University currently refers to an institution of higher education and the place, site or location of this institution.
The Latin verb vertere means to turn and the noun versus was created from this verb.4 Ūni is a prefix, a form of ūnus which referred to one or a singular element.5 This prefix and noun were combined together to form the word ūniversus, which refers to the whole entity, encompassing all elements. In combing these two words, ūniversus is the turning into one.3
The -itāt suffix originates from the Latin suffix -tās, which meant to express a condition.6 Ūniversus was combined with the suffix -tās into the classical Latin word ūniversitāt, which refers to the whole, sum of things and in a greater sense, the universe. In its legal use, the word pertained to a corporate group of people. In post classical Latin, the definition of ūniversitāt was applied in a scholarly nature. It referred to a group of scholars in an academic institution.1
As this word evolved through Old and Middle French, and Anglo-Norman it did not have a consistent definition, however all referred to university as a community, corporation or gathering of people, whether or not it pertained to an academic institution of higher learning.1 When universities (by its definition today) were first opened during the Middle Ages, students travelled from all over to go to university because only a few existed. Therefore, they attracted these students and brought them together creating a community.7 Since universities represented the bringing together of people to one place, ūniversitāt began to describe them. The word then took on a more academic connotation, describing an institution of masters and students.1
With an increased number of universities today and public transportation, students live closer to universities and are able to commute to and from university. There is no longer this same community, that the first universities available created. Universities are considered solely academic institutions for higher education, often associated with theoretical learning as opposed to practical, hands on learning that often occurs in colleges.
1 "university, n.". OED Online. September 2012. Oxford University Press. http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/214804?rskey=MT5LFQ&result=1&isAdvanced=false (accessed November 20, 2012).
2 "universe, n.". OED Online. September 2012. Oxford University Press. http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/214800?redirectedFrom=universe (accessed November 20, 2012).
3 "uni-, comb. form". OED Online. September 2012. Oxford University Press. http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/214317?rskey=rLTEhz&result=2&isAdvanced=false (accessed November 20, 2012).
4 "vert, v.1". OED Online. September 2012. Oxford University Press. http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/222754?rskey=x2mGS3&result=5&isAdvanced=false (accessed November 20, 2012).
5 "† university, v.". OED Online. September 2012. Oxford University Press. http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/273711?rskey=XMaI1i&result=2&isAdvanced=false (accessed November 2o, 2012).
6 "-ty, suffix1". OED Online. September 2012. Oxford University Press. http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/208263?rskey=VvqvTg&result=1&isAdvanced=false (accessed November 21, 2012).
7 "Nations." In , . (, n.d.). Retrieved 20 Nov. 2012, from http://www.oxfordreference.com.proxy.lib.uwaterloo.ca/view/10.1093/oi/authority.20110803100223816