Origin of “ISWZA”

When Lambda Chi Alpha chartered its thirteenth chapter at Cornell in 1913, it accepted a strong local society: I.S.W.Z.A. Established in 1908, it incorporated in 1913 as ISWZA Fraternity, Inc., the name of the alumni corporation to this day.

ISWZA grew out of an informal club called Mug and Jug formed in October of 1907. When its members decided to formalize their organization into a permanent fraternity, they chose the name I.S.W.Z.A. from the letters engraved on the master stein that held their evening’s beer (i.e. the jug from which their mugs were filled). These, in turn, were the first letters of the title of one of their favorite kniepe songs: “Im schwarzen Walfisch zu Askalon.”

Pronunciation

There is no single accepted pronunciation of “ISWZA,” as it is an invented word. Brothers from older generations usually stress the first syllable: “ISS wah zah.” Since at least the 1980s, “iss WHUH zah” has been a common alternative.

Lyrics

The lyrics below are attributed to Josef Viktor von Scheffel in 1854, entitled “Altassyrisch” (“Old Assyrian”), and set to the traditional German tune “Es war einmal ein Zimmergesell.” The German fraternity Verbindung Leonensia’s recording of the song is available for download as an MP3 (1.6MB) from their website.

Lyrics

  1. Im schwarzen Walfisch zu Askalon, da trank ein Mann drei Tag,
    |: bis daß er steif wie ein Besenstiel am Marmortische lag. :|
  2. Im schwarzen Walfisch zu Askalon, da sprach der Wirt: Halt ein!
    |: Der trinkt von meinem Dattelsaft mehr, als er zahlen kann. :|
  3. Im schwarzen Walfisch zu Askalon, da bracht der Kellner Schar
    |: in Keilschrift auf sechs Ziegelstein' dem Gast die Rechnung dar. :|
  4. Im schwarzen Walfisch zu Askalon, da sprach der Gast: O weh!
    |: Mein bares Geld ging alles drauf im Lamm zu Ninive! :|
  5. Im schwarzen Walfisch zu Askalon, da schlug die Uhr halb vier,
    |: da warf der Hausknecht aus Nubierland den Fremden vor die Tür. :|
  6. Im schwarzen Walfisch zu Askalon wird kein Prophet geehrt,
    |: und wer vergnügt dort leben will, zahlt bar, was er verzehrt. :|

Translation

  1. In the Black Whale in Ashkelon, a man once drank for three days, until he lay stiff as a broomstick on the marble table.
  2. In the Black Whale in Ashkelon, then spoke the host: Beware! Whoever drinks of more of my good brandy* than he can pay.
  3. In the Black Whale in Ashkelon, then the tapster brought the stranger the tab in cuneiform upon six tiles.
  4. In the Black Whale in Ashkelon, then spoke the stranger: Alas! My ready money all went as a lamb to Nineveh.
  5. In the Black Whale in Ashkelon, then the clock struck half past three, Thereupon the Nubian houseboy threw the trespasser out the door of the beer room.
  6. In the Black Whale in Ashkelon, no prophet is honored, and whoever wishes to live content pays cash for what he quaffs.

* Dattelsaft, literally, “date juice.”

Altassyrisch