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I am reading a (fictional) story set in 1980's Scotland. One of the characters is studying (reading?) business and this is written:

he could tell the class of honours was not something she cared about and so it proved. She ended up with a Desmond and was done with academia forever.

What does it mean to "end up with a Desmond"?

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    Source? Title of book?
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Sep 21, 2022 at 7:10
  • If I had to guess, I'd say that Desmond is implied to be a dodo (extinct/worthless).
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Sep 21, 2022 at 7:14
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    It's a form of rhyming slang. In rhyming slang, a particular word is used as a substitute for a different word. For example, in Cockney rhyming slang the word apples is used as a substitute for the word stairs. The substitute word is known to be the first word in a two or three word phrase. So the word apples is understood to be the first word in the phrase apples and pears. The last word in this 2 or 3 word phrase rhymes with the word that is being replaced. So you'll notice that the word pears rhymes with the word stairs. (continued) Commented Sep 22, 2022 at 9:21
  • 5
    Sometimes a speaker will use the whole phrase as a substitute for the word that's being replaced. So someone might say "She went up the apples and pears" to mean "She went up the stairs". However, usually the speaker will just use the first word in the phrase and not the rest of it (so the rhyming word is not actually pronounced). So instead of saying "She went up the apples and pears" a speaker is more likely to say "She went up the apples". In your case the word being replaced is two-two (2nd class degree), the substitute phrase is Desmond Tutu, the replacement word is Desmond. Commented Sep 22, 2022 at 9:28

1 Answer 1

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It means to get a II-2 degree. Pronounced Two-two. Not a fail, not a III: but in practice very low. Desmond Tutu was a famous South African Archbishop. It is a bad-taste joke.

Thaks to @anything here is a reference:

A very concise dictionary of student slang

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  • 4
    For completeness, a first (the highest degree) is a Damien (rhyming slang for artist Damien Hirst); in the past, footballer Geoff Hurst would have been used instead. Attila (the Hun) for a II-1, a good if not outstanding result.
    – Ottie
    Commented Sep 21, 2022 at 8:10
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    Desmond is (or was) much more common than Damien/Geoff or Attila. I don't think I have heard either of those. UK University honours degrees go First, Two-one, Two-two, Third. An ordinary degree is ranked even lower than a Third. Commented Sep 21, 2022 at 15:34
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    Is it really considered that bad-taste? I don't think it's implying that Desmond Tutu would've gotten poor marks, it's just having some fun with his name. As rhyming slang goes, I've heard much more clearly offensive examples than that... Commented Sep 21, 2022 at 18:05
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    @DarrelHoffman, yes, it seems in perfectly good taste, especially compared to calling someone a “Berkshire Hunk” or “berk”. Commented Sep 21, 2022 at 18:45
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    There's nothing bad taste about this rhyming slang at all. Commented Sep 22, 2022 at 9:04

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