U S Military Academy at West Point

  Last Updated: 12/10/98


    According to Dr. Steve Grove, the West Point Historian, who was kind enough to research this for us:

    Reputedly, the term "goat" came into use in the 1880s. Prior to that the lower standing members of the class were called "the immortals." Supposedly, one Spanish instructor who habitually taught the lower classes had a goatee. From his goatee, then, the cadets he taught became known as the "goats." It doesn't hurt that the Navy mascot is a goat also. In the 1909 Howitzer, a goat is described as "a man who would have stood first if he had boned"; hive is described as "to comprehend intelligently, or to catch one in the act of wrong-doing, a Tac's ambition."

    By the 1970s, the meaning was expressed as we do today:"goat-- a man in the lower sections. A man near the bottom of his class."

    In the 1870s, "hive" had meant "to detect", used in a good and bad sense. Also "to take, to steal." "hive-- to understand, to comprehend or an intelligent person or one who learns quickly. "I have been unsuccessful in determining any more information for the term "hive," although if the goats are distinguished by a lack of effort, bees, on the other hand, are distinguished by a general intensity of effort.

    Finally, from the Bible you have, in the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 25 and verses 31-33, "But when the Son of Man shall come in His majesty, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory; and before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate the one from another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats; and he will set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on his left."

    [Thank you Dr. Grove for assisting us with this material


    As the end of the four years neared, there was 'jockeying' among the last 4 or 5 in the class for the 'class goat' position and good natured words among them accusing each other of purposely dropping tenths on an exam so they would end up as the class goat. One tradition was that every member of the class contributed a dollar to the class goat fund which was presented at graduation.

    When the competition for class goat really heated up Firstie year, the goat candidates had it harder than the guys competing for the top of the class. The class leaders only had to study well enough to try to answer all the questions on every test to the best of their abilities. The goat candidates, on the other hand, had to know the material even more perfectly so they would know exactly how many questions to answer wrong, and keep their average tangent, i.e., not failing (a big risk goat candidates boldly accepted), but barely passing and still below their competitors. Someone who can succeed in this is someone, who if he had applied himself that much to his studies during all four years could very well have been the No. 1 man in the class!

    Chuck Rittenburg
    MAJ,.MI, Ret.


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