Philolexian Society

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Philolexian Society
Founded: 1802
Recognition: Yes
Membership: Unknowable
Executive Board: Moderator: Alexandar Obradovic CC '17

Censor: Brendan Stewart CC '17
Scriba: Nicholas Luber CC '18
Chancellor: Jennifer Haley BC '18
Literary Czar: Julianna Kaplan BC '19
Impresario:Ryan Render GS '17
Minister of Propaganda: Jean Kim "Destroyer of Worlds" CC '18
Symposiarch: Rachel Gates CC '20

Category: Debate
Contact: Moderator
See also Wikipedia's article about "Philolexian Society".

The Philolexian Society is one of the oldest collegiate literary societies in the United States, and the oldest student group at Columbia. It is known primarily for its witty debates, unabashedly anachronistic air, and pretensions to pseudo-intellectualism and faux-erudition.

The society aims to "improve its members in Oratory, Composition and Forensic Discussion". The name Philolexian is Greek for "Lover of discourse," and the society's motto is the Latin word "Surgam", meaning "I shall rise". The society publishes a literary journal of the same name twice a year.

It has many famous alumni and an excellent website.



The Society was founded on May 17, 1802. Originally, freshmen were barred from entry, and to satisfy them, the Peithologian Society was founded four years later. For a century, these two societies would be rivals, until Peitholgian ceased to exist after the turn of the century. After maintaining a continuous existence for over 130 years, Philolexian succumbed to periods of intermittent dormancy over the next 20 years, thanks to a combination of administrative interference, the Great Depression, and student apathy following an internal power struggle. In the 1930s, for example, society president Ralph de Toledano noted that the group was almost exclusively devoted to drinking wine and listening to jazz. Although a postwar incarnation included such distinguished names as Allen Ginsberg, John Hollander, Jason Epstein, and Robert Butler, Philolexian effectively ceased to function in the early 1950's. The society was revived once in the 1960s by Ben Stein and others, largely as an adjunct to Alpha Delta Phi, but the effort failed to take hold. In 1985 Philolexian was reconvened again by six students and has been active ever since. The leader of the most recent revival, Thomas Vinciguerra, is now known as "the Avatar".


Beyond its weekly debating sessions, the Society administers the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Bad Poetry Contest. It also hosts a Beat Night, reading poetry of the Beat Generation aloud on The Steps, and holds an annual Croquet Tea on Mathematics Lawn, in which members appear in 19th century costume. Recently, Philo has attempted to broaden its range of activities, having hosted a human chess match on the Steps and tea with members of the University faculty, as well as co-sponsoring a book club event during Queer Awareness Month.

Prizes and Contests

In addition to the Kilmer Bad Poetry contest, Philo is involved with three other campus prizes and contests. The Philolexian Centennial Washington Prize oratory contest is conducted once every four years by the Society, and in 2011 the society helped conduct the George William Curtis Medal oratory contest, after Columbia forgot to hold it the previous year. The Philolexian Prize, one of the oldest endowed student prizes at Columbia, oddly, is awarded by the English Department without any collaboration with the Society.

Past debate resolutions

  • Resolved: Having an embarrassing name is worse than having an embarrassing face
  • Resolved: Penguins deserve to fly
  • Resolved: We only want what's bad for us
  • Resolved: Batman is a modern day Hamlet
  • Resolved: Everything the light touches shall be mine
  • Resolved: Horses are terrible people
  • Resolved: Parents have no business raising children
  • Resolved: Madness and Genius are separated by degrees of success
  • Resolved: If you've stolen it, you've earned it
  • Resolved: There is an objectively best sandwich
  • Resolved: The laws of science are unconstitutional
  • Resolved: Mo' money, mo' problems


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