I know many of the colleges and universities in the Bay Area, but just last week, driving through Oakland on southbound 880, I was surprised to see a billboard for one I’d never heard of and whose name captured my attention: Argosy University.
Argosy University’s motto is “The better way to earn your degree.” They could do better.
The campus being promoted on the billboard is in Alameda; when I called to check facts, the lady on the phone said she thought it had moved there from Point Richmond in 2006. Although both of those cities are in the East Bay, the university calls this campus “San Francisco.”
Argosy is a four-year, private, for-profit university with campuses in 13 states. It’s had its share of controversies involving fraud, deceptive practices, and plagiarism. According to the online backgrounder, the Argosy system was established in September 2001 through the merger of three colleges: the American School of Professional Psychology, the University of Sarasota, and the Medical Institute of Minnesota. Among the university’s “notable alumni” is Sonja Fisher, who was crowned “Mrs. Corporate America” in 2009*.
So: What about the university’s name? Why “Argosy”?
I knew the word from another context (keep reading), but I’d always thought “argosy” was related to “Argonaut,” literally “a sailor on the Argo”—the ship in which Jason and his crewmates sought the Golden Fleece. (California Gold Rush adventurers were also called “argonauts” because they pursued a type of Golden Fleece; in fact, that’s the context in which I first learned that word.) Argo means “the swift” in Greek, but argosy has a different and much later etymology: it came into English in the 1570s from Italian Ragusea, “a vessel of Ragusa.” Ragusa, a port on the Adriatic, is the modern-day Dubrovnik.
Because of the sailing/adventure connection, “Argosy” has been used over the years as a brand name evoking exploration. I found 24 live trademarks in the USPTO database for “Argosy”; besides Argosy University, there’s an international import/export company, a charter-boat company, a seafood company, a shipping company, a transportation-logistics company, and a “casino gaming services” company in Illinois that owns several Argosy marks. There are also a couple of computer-related Argosy trademarks, a couple for smoking tobacco, and one for Argosy hearing aids that has a VERY LARGE LOGO, possibly so you can hear it better. Argosy Bookstore, in midtown Manhattan, was founded in 1925 and sells rare books, maps, and Americana.
There are more than twice as many dead Argosy marks as live ones in the database. The oldest Argosy mark is the one I’d recalled when I saw the billboard.
Cover of Argosy magazine from 1937, found here.
I’m pretty sure I’ve never read an issue of Argosy, but I’m a bit of a magazine buff, and the title holds a special place in American magazine history. Published between 1882 and 1978, Argosy is considered America’s first pulp magazine. At various times it was called The Argosy and Argosy All-Story Magazine. Edgar Rice Burroughs published some of his Tarzan stories in Argosy, and Erle Stanley Gardner (creator of Perry Mason), published articles about his Court of Last Resort there.
Because of those connotations, “Argosy” seems to me to be a rather swashbuckling, knife-in-the-teeth name for an institution of higher learning—even for one that’s out to turn a profit. (I can’t help wanting to give the initial syllable of “argosy” a pirate arrr.) Good thing or bad thing? I suppose there’s a case to be made for education as exploration, and there’s no doubt that “Argosy” is a distinctive name in its category. Wouldn’t it be great if Argosy University offered a degree in magazine history? Or pulp fiction?
* From the press release, dated June 11, 2009: “Sonja’s goal is to represent women in Corporate America to show that even though you are a woman, you can succeed in your chosen field.” Syntax, sentiment, and capitalization verbatim.