Fraternity and Sorority Life Terminology

Active: A fully initiated member of a fraternity/sorority.

Alumna: A member of a women’s fraternal organization who is no longer an undergraduate. Plural: Alumnae.

Alumnus: A member of a men’s fraternal organization who is no longer an undergraduate. Plural: Alumni.

Associate Member: A person who has accepted a bid but is not yet initiated into a sorority or fraternity. See also: “New Member.”

Bid: An invitation to join a sorority or fraternity. For culturally-based or NPHC organizations, it is a formal invitation to be a potential/prospective new member.

Big: Nickname for big sister or brother, which is a mentor assigned to a new member. Many organizations have special names for these pairings.

Brother: An active or alumni member of a fraternity.

Brotherhood: The common term for the bond between members of the same fraternity.

Chapter: An established membership unit of a national or international sorority or fraternity.

Chapter House: A physical structure where members live. Chapter houses are typically owned and operated by private corporations or organizations.

Charter: The official document drafted by an inter/national fraternity or sorority that allows for the creation of a local chapter that is affiliated with a college or university campus.

Crest: Insignia used by sorority and fraternity members. Most Greek organizations reserve the crest for initiated members only. Each crest has hidden, secret meanings behind it. Also known as a coat of arms, shield, or armorial bearings.

Crossing: Ceremony during which new members of culturally-based and NPHC organizations become active, life-long members of their organization.

Dry: An organization that does not permit alcohol on the premises and in very rare cases, does not allow the organization to host a party involving alcohol.

Dues: The monetary costs of membership in a fraternity or sorority. These fees are used to cover the costs of operation, formal events, social activities, and other events, depending on the organization.

Expansion: When an organization is looking to expand and open a new establishment of a Greek Letter organization at a college or university.

Founder’s Day: An event celebrated by fraternities and sororities to highlight the founding of their organization and celebrate its history. It’s not necessarily held on the day the organization was founded.

Fraternity: The name applied to Greek organizations including both men’s and women’s organizations.

Formal Recruitment: A designated recruitment period during which a series of organized events are hosted by Greek Letter organizations.

Founders: The founding members of a Greek Letter organization.

Greeks: Members of a fraternity or sorority. The term “Greek” is used because a majority of fraternities and sororities use Greek letters to distinguish themselves.

Hazing: Any willful act or practice by a member, directed against a member, or new member, which—with or without intent—is likely to: cause bodily harm or danger, offensive punishment, or disturbing pain; compromise the person’s dignity; cause embarrassment or shame in public; cause the person to be the object of malicious amusement or ridicule; cause psychological harm or substantial emotional strain; and impair academic efforts. In addition, hazing is any requirement by a member which compels a member or new member to participate in any activity which is illegal, is contrary to moral or religious beliefs, or is contrary to the rules and regulations of the sorority/fraternity, institution of learning, and civil authorities.

Informal Recruitment: Any time outside of a formal recruitment period where Greek organizations recruit new members.

Initiation: A ceremony during which new members receive lifelong membership privileges into the organization they have chosen to be a part of.

Legacy: Each organization has its own definition of a “legacy.” It is generally defined as an immediate family member of an initiated member, such as a sister/brother or daughter/son. Some sororities also recognize extended family members as legacies as well.

Letters: The first Greek letter of each Greek word that makes up the motto of a particular fraternity or sorority; these are generally displayed on clothing and other Greek paraphernalia.

Line: A term used by culturally-based and NPHC organizations to name a group of new members who all joined during the same term, semester, or pledge class. They are the potential new members of the organization. Lines are often given names.

Line name/number: The name given to a prospective/new member that represents them as a person, usually a noun, adjective or acronym. Culturally-based organizations and NPHC organizations also assign a line number to their new members (such as ace, deuce, tre, etc.).

Little: Short for “Little brother/sister”—a new member who is being mentored by an older member of their organization.

National Pan-Hellenic Council (NPHC): The governing body of the nine traditionally African American fraternities and sororities, also known as the “Divine Nine.”

National Panhellenic Council (NPC): A national organization comprised of 26 women’s fraternities and sororities, each of which is autonomous as a social, Greek-letter-society of college women.

Nationals: Fraternity and Sorority members often refer to their national/international headquarters or offices as “Nationals” or HQ. These offices are responsible for making policies for the individual organizations at all of colleges and universities where their organization recruit members.

North-American Interfraternity Conference (NIC): A national organization comprised of 69 fraternal organizations (mostly for men), each of which is autonomous as a social, Greek-letter-society of college men.

New Member: A person who has accepted a bid but is not yet initiated to a sorority or fraternity. See also: “Associate Member.”

New Member Educator: The liaison between the new members and the chapter. They are responsible for implementing and monitoring the new member program and preparing the new members for initiation.

Officers: Initiated members who currently hold positions within their Greek organization or governing body.

Philanthropy: This is a community service project/s held by a fraternity, sorority, or both. Many Greek organizations host multiple projects each year, and most Inter/National Fraternities and Sororities require their organizations to do at least one large project per year.

Pledge: A person who has accepted a bid but is not yet initiated to a sorority or fraternity. This term is believed to be outdated by some and can be considered offensive. See also: “New Member”

Potential New Member: A person who is interested in joining a Greek-letter organization and will participate in rush, intake, or recruitment; often abbreviated to PNM.

Recolonize: A process where a fraternity or a sorority that was previously on campus receives another charter to recruit members on the same campus. Recolonization can happen because a chapter died out due to low numbers, or had their charter revoked.

Recruitment: The process through which sororities and fraternities get new members. Potential New Members tour each house, are invited to different events, and choose the new members for their organization (students seeking membership in a fraternity or sorority “rush” while the Greek organizations “recruit” new members).

Ritual: The traditional rites and ceremonies of a fraternity or sorority; these are almost always private and known only to initiated members of a fraternal organization.

Saluting: Saluting is a tradition common to many Latino-Greek Organizations. Salute/Saluting is a unique art of reciting information in a line formation. It involves a line of members performing intense, in-sync, and sharp hand and body movements with greetings attributing to others, honoring past and current accomplishments, or cherishing the cultural history, heritage, and traditions of the entire organization.

Sister: An active member of a sorority.

Sisterhood: The common term for the bond between members of the same sorority.

Note: This glossary is based on a list provided by the University of Oregon’s Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life. It is republished here with their permission.