Oxbridge was originally a fictional composite of the University of Oxford and the University of Cambridge in England, and the term is now used to refer to them collectively, often with implications of their superior intellectual or social status.
The term 'Oxbridge' has arisen partly from the many characteristics that the two universities share. They are the two oldest universities in England. Both were founded more than 750 years ago, and continued as England's only universities until the 19th century. Between them they have produced a large number of Britain's most prominent scientists, writers, and politicians, as well as noted figures in many other fields. Moreover they both share a similar collegiate system, whereby the University is a 'cooperative' of its constituent colleges. The competition between Oxford and Cambridge also has a long history, dating back to the days when Cambridge was founded by dissident scholars from Oxford.
The word Oxbridge may also be used, sometimes pejoratively, as a descriptor of social class; i.e. the upper social classes who have in the past dominated the intake of these two universities.
Although both universities were founded more than seven centuries ago, the term 'Oxbridge' is relatively young. In William Thackeray's novel Pendennis, published in 1849, the main character attends (the fictional) Boniface College, Oxbridge. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, this is the first recorded instance of the word, but it did not enter common usage until the middle of the 20th century. This is possibly because until 1832, Oxford and Cambridge were the only universities in England, and the terms "University" or "Varsity" would have sufficed to encompass both universities.
Pendennis also introduces 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. Virginia Woolf used the term Oxbridge critically in her essay A Room of One's Own.
Social critics in the United Kingdom, such as Carole Cadwalladr, also sometimes use "Oxbridge" or "Oxbridge Club" as shorthand for the "old boy network".
When expanded, the universities are almost always referred to as "Oxford & Cambridge". A notable exception is that in Japan, there is a Cambridge and Oxford Society, a rare example of the name Cambridge coming before Oxford when the two universities are referred to together — traditionally, the order used when referring to both universities is “Oxford and Cambridge”, the order in which they were founded. The probable reason for this inversion is that the Cambridge Club was founded first in Japan, and it also had more members than its Oxford counterpart when they amalgamated in 1905.