The Sunkie G’s

Denotation: Slang Term n. an abbreviation for the Sunken Gardens, the stretch of lowered grass that stretches from the Wren Building to the Crim Dell Meadow on the old part of campus.

Etymology: a combination of a clipping of the word “sunken” and an abbreviasunken-garden-at-william-and-mary-jerry-gammontion for “garden”.

Sunken: Past participle of “sink” (from Middle English “sinken”, cognate withDutch zinken, German sinken, Old Norse sǫkkva, Gothic singkwan)

Garden: From Middle English gardin, originally from Anglo-French gardin, jardin, of Germanic origin.

History: The Sunken Gardens were first designed by College Architect Charles M. Robinson from 1919 to 1923. In 1933, a Civilian Conservation Corps Camp was assigned to the College in order to make improvements to and beautify the campus grounds. The Sunken Gardens were finally built from 1935 to 1936 as part of this project. Their design was based on 18th century English gardens, which favored sweeping lawns that were intended to lift the spirit by causing the eye to be drawn to far away, natural settings. The design was also based particularly off of Christopher Wren’s works in England, including his work at Chelsea Hospital.

The abbreviation “Sunkie G’s” came in to use at an undetermined time, but it is relatively recent, seeing as the past generation of William and Mary graduates (1987-1991) did not use the term. The earliest online references found for the term were from 2013 on social media.

Sociolectal Information:

The Sunken Gardens function as a centerpiece of the William and Mary Campus, and their location next to the Wren Building causes them to be pictured on many of the college’s advertisements and promotions. For this reason, the formal name, “The Sunken Gardens” is generally used in most formal documents, including the official William and Mary website and promotional materials. This is because to the staff of the school and to many proud students, the gardens are representative of the beauty, prestige, and honor of the school, and are an important tool for advertising that prestige.

However, to the students, the Sunken Gardens are also the centerpiece of social activity and relaxation. On sunny days, the Sunken Gardens are the place to be. As a result, the Sunken Gardens function in the same way a quadrangle does on other campuses. Just like the ability of the quadrangle to be shortened to “quad” by students, the Sunken Gardens has been shortened to the Sunkie G’s. The term is used primarily by students to index the laid back social attitude of a day spent relaxing outside on the grass.

The attitude associated with the Sunkie G’s is one of relaxation and informality, which directly clashes with the formal, prestigious image of the Sunken Gardens. As a result, the term Sunkie G’s can become a means for students to humorously mock the history and sometimes pompous image of the school. In this way, the Sunkie G’s become a cathartic tool for students seeking refuge from the sometimes stressful academic atmosphere associated with William and Mary’s great reputation. It is also simply an endearing term which reflects the community of William and Mary and all of their quirks.

The Sunkie G’s is also even more popular on social media platforms than in everyday conversations. It is a popular location tag for Facebook photos as well as a hashtag on Instagram or Twitter. Its informality fits in perfectly with the informal speech of youth on social media.

Although the term generally has very positive connotations, students that choose not to use the abbreviation may feel that it is silly or simply unnecessary, especially since the abbreviation is not much shorter than just saying “The Sunken Gardens”. For those students who take pride in the tradition and formality of the College, the term the Sunkie G’s may carry a connotation of laziness associated with an attitude of taking for granted the incredible academic resources the college provides.

Survival Predictions:

I think that because of social media, this term will continue to be used, since it lends itself so easily to hashtags. It is shorter than actually saying, “The Sunken Gardens”, and it carries with it a good-natured, laid back attitude that tends to be associated with good friends and some of the best people to spend time with. That being said, I don’t think it will ever come to be used by the official faculty of William and Mary. The Sunken Gardens are still a symbol of pride for all William and Mary students, and I’m sure that most would agree that the formal name is perfectly suitable when presenting our school to newcomers or trying to make a good impression on someone.

I also think that because the term is particularly useful for social media, it will remain in the lexicon of students rather than professors. Since professors don’t regularly access social media sites like Yik Yak or community Facebook pages related to William and Mary, they may not be exposed to the term, and thus it may not cross over into use outside of the speech community of William and Mary students.


I love this term because I think it takes away some of the stiff formalities of the great, historic “William and Mary” without completely losing the nerdy, “Twampy” character of William and Mary students. I feel like it totally sums up the attitude most students have towards the Sunken Gardens, and best of all, it rolls off the tongue and is very fun to say!


  1. Hannah Menchel says:

    I love this post. I found it super informative and interesting. I walk on and around the Sunken Gardens every day, but I didn’t know the history of it, so I was really glad that you included that information in that post. I’m also very impressed that you found the first usage of “Sunkie G’s” on social media. I feel like the term “Sunkie G’s” is used in a very loving and endearing way, with obvious affection for the campus of William and Mary and its quirks. Additionally, I really liked the way that you compared the Sunken Gardens to the traditional quad that a lot of other colleges have. I’m curious about whether or not teachers use this term as well, or are aware of its usage, as I have only ever heard students use this term.

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