I came across an unfamiliar word today in a book I’m reading – docent. From the context I guessed it referred to someone who leads guided tours, but according to my English dictionary it means ‘(in the U.S.) a lecturer in some colleges and universities’, and it comes from the German word Dozent (associate professor, tutor, academic, lecturer), from the Latin docēns, from docēre (to teach).

According to Wikipedia, ‘Docent is a title at some European universities to denote a specific academic appointment within a set structure of academic ranks below professor (i.e. professor ordinarius). Docent is also used at some universities generically for a person who has the right to teach.’ It is used as an academic title in universities in a number of European countries.

There are also museum docents, who guide and educate visitors to museums and other institutions, usually voluntarily.

Have you come across the word docent before? What are such people called, if they exist, in your country?

In the UK they are known as guides.

This entry was posted in English, Etymology, German, Language, Latin, Words and phrases.

11 Responses to Docent

  1. Adrienne says:

    Hmm… I’m in the US and the first thing that would come to mind upon reading the word “docent” would definitely be a museum docent/ tour guide, not an academic lecturer. I may have heard it used in that context but certainly not commonly.

  2. Ray says:

    In my experience, it is a pretty common word in the US and usually means an exhibit guide, hired by the museum as a volunteer. In my undergraduate career, I might have heard the term used in a lecturing context, but I can’t remember specifics.

  3. Jerry says:

    I often heard the word when I lived in Holland denoting a lecturer at a university. Also, a teacher-friend from South America calls herself a docent; I believe she is a high school teacher.

  4. Rauli says:

    In Finland, the cognate word “dosentti” is an academic title at a university. You have to have made scientific publications and be able to teach independently to apply for the title. Basically it means a right to teach at a university, but it doesn’t necessarily imply you have a job at the university that awarded you the title. It is usually translated into English as “adjunct professor”.

  5. Miacomet says:

    I’m from Chicago, and I have a different experience with this word than Ray or Adrienne. When I see the word, I immediately think of the academic title. I’ve heard it used as a museum worker, but I would definitely call them “guides”.

    Additionally, it’s interesting that “docent” and “doctor” can both be traced back to the same root. Even though one is a title below “professor” and the other is the highest academic degree, they both come from the same Latin verb.

  6. Arakun says:

    “Docent” is the second highest academic title in Sweden. To quote Wikipedia: “The title docent is not an employment position, but rather a competency level required to be the main supervisor of a PhD student, or to serve as a member of the committee that assesses the defense of a PhD thesis.”

  7. Petréa Mitchell says:

    Another US native here to attest that it’s a common word for people giving tours at museums. I’d never encountered the academic meaning before.

  8. Lev says:

    It exists in Russian as доцент. I’m not sure what it means.

  9. Jim M. says:

    Interesting how it varies! At our museum, we always called the guides docents. I was familiar with the academic meaning only through the German word Dozent, Privatdozent.

  10. Lucas says:

    The word “docente” in Portuguese comes directly from Latin, meaning one who teaches, used generally for teachers or professors.
    And there’s also the word “discente” (yes, from Latin discere), meaning one who learns, that is, the students. E.g. “corpo docente” (docent body) means the group of all teachers of a given school, and “corpo dicente” means the group of all students.

  11. Darryl Shpak says:

    I’m from Canada (Manitoba), and my first reaction was that it sounded like an archaic word that I’d heard once before, possibly an adjective. So, despite spending some time in both museums and academic institutions, it was unfamiliar to me. It’s in the category of “Words that I recognize and might play in Scrabble but have no idea what they mean”.

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