Although both universities were founded more than eight centuries ago, the term Oxbridge is relatively recent. In William Thackeray's novel Pendennis, published in 1850, the main character attends the fictional Boniface College, Oxbridge. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, this is the first recorded instance of the word. Virginia Woolf used it, citing Thackeray, in her 1929 essay A Room of One's Own. By 1957 the term was used in the Times Educational Supplement and in Universities Quarterly by 1958.
When expanded, the universities are almost always referred to as "Oxford and Cambridge", the order in which they were founded. A notable exception is Japan's Cambridge and Oxford Society, probably arising from the fact that the Cambridge Club was founded there first, and also had more members than its Oxford counterpart when they amalgamated in 1905.
In addition to being a collective term, Oxbridge is often used as shorthand for characteristics the two institutions share:
The word Oxbridge may also be used pejoratively: as a descriptor of social class (referring to the professional classes who dominated the intake of both universities at the beginning of the twentieth century), as shorthand for an elite that "continues to dominate Britain's political and cultural establishment" and a parental attitude that "continues to see UK higher education through an Oxbridge prism", or to describe a "pressure-cooker" culture that attracts and then fails to support overachievers "who are vulnerable to a kind of self-inflicted stress that can all too often become unbearable" and high-flying state school students who find "coping with the workload very difficult in terms of balancing work and life" and "feel socially out of depth".
Thackeray's Pendennis (1850) also introduced the term Camford as another combination of the university names – "he was a Camford man and very nearly got the English Prize Poem" – although this term has never achieved the same degree of usage as Oxbridge. Camford was also used in the Sherlock Holmes story The Adventure of the Creeping Man (1923).