Origin of the word 'pupils' to mean public school students?

What is the origin of the word ‘pupils’ as used to mean public school students? They may also be called ‘students’, especially in high school, but ‘pupil’ seems to be the preferred official term. At the same time, you never hear of ‘pupils’ in colleges or univerisities, although I have seen on the internet at least one case where the students of a teacher training college, around the turn of the last century, were being referred to as pupils.

So what is the meaning? Did the word originally have anything to do with the pupils of the eyes?

I was going to start a new thread with that. Can someone report that to the moderators, since I can’t use the report feature on my own thread?


Great, thanks for moving it and starting the new thread!

And possibly answered:

Random House Word maven on pupil.

(I suspect that the pupa stage of insect development has a similar origin (the little maggots).)

Back i the 1960s, the comic book Treasure Chest of Fun and Fact hasd a page-long feature where they reported on the origins of words. I still recall the one for “pupil” – both meanings derive from latin pupa (which presumably also gav us the name for the stage of insect life), which means “little doll”. The idea is that a grade-school student is really small, a “little doll”. The connection to the pupil of the eye is that one can see a reflection of oneself in the reflective surface of the cornea (which stands out much better against the dark background of the pupil than the part before the colored iris or white sclera). Because it’s a convex surface, it has negative optical power and you see a reduced image of yourself, a virtual “little doll” in the other person’s eye.

The explanation in Treasure Chest was illustrated with a picture of a student pointing to the teacher’s eye and saying “I See a Pupil in your Pupil.” And now I can’t forget it. It’s the Mnemonic Plague, I tell you.

They have a pill for that, you know. Ask your doctor if Pupilstat is right for you.

The little ***former ***maggots.

All children (3-18) in schools in the UK are called ‘pupils’.

You’re not called a student until you go to university.