Date: Tue, 25 Oct 94 16:10:05 PDT
Just in case you didn't already know, Webster (Merriam Webster's 9th New
1: the person for whom something is or is believed to be named
2: a name (as of a drug or a disease) based on or derived from
But by far the most frequent use of this term lately has been in the
adjective form, "eponymous," used unfailingly to describe a record, tape, or CD
titled with the artist's name - hardly an eponym (even though it does appear to
fit the dictionary definition).
Here are (real) eponyms forwarded by Henry Cate <email@example.com>, some
from Vol 2 of "The Mathematical Intelligencer" (with etymologies from the
American Heritage dictionary) and some from the book "O Thou Improper, Thou
Uncommon Noun" by Willard R. Espy (pub. by Potter).
BOYCOTT: In 1880, Captain Charles Cunningham Boycott was land agent
in County Mayo, Ireland, for an absentee owner, the Earl of Erne.
Though the harvest had been disastrous, Captain Boycott refused to
reduce rents and attempted to evict any tenants who could not pay
in full. As a result, he became the object of the earliest known
effort to force an alteration of policy by concerted nonintercourse.
His servants departed en masse. No one would sell him food. Life
became so miserable for him that at last he gave up and returned to
England. To boycott is "to combine in abstaining from, or preventing
dealings with, as a means of intimidation or coercion."
CARDIGAN: After James Thomas Brudenell, Seventh Earl of Cardigan.
CHARLATAN: Though villainy is as ancient as man, one particular form
of it was named only in the 14th century, when the sharp trading of
men from Cerreto, a village about ninety miles north of Rome, made
them notorious and their motives suspect. Under the influence of
Italian ciarlare, "to chatter," a Cerretano became a ciarlatano,
and, in English, a charlatan, "one who pretends to unheld knowledge
CHAUVINISM: After Nicolas Chauvin, a soldier excessively devoted to
Napoleon; meaning blind allegiance. I think the word has been
changed recently, since male chauvinist appears to refer to a person
expecting to receive blind allegiance rather than one giving it.
DERRICK: Goodman Derrick, another Tyburn hangman, was as adept with
the axe as with the noose; he cut off the head of the Earl of Essex
in 1601. But it was his adeptness at gibbeting that won him
vernacular immortality. Any hoisting apparatus employing a tackle
rigged at the end of a spar is a derrick.
DUKES: The Duke of Wellington's nose compared in magnitude with those
of Cyrano de Bergerac and Schnozzola Durante. His troops called him
"Nosey." Cockneys began to call noses dukes in his honor. Fists, by
extension, were duke-busters. Duke-buster shrank back to duke, but
retained the meaning "fist." When you are ordered to put up your
dukes, you are being challenged to fisticuffs.
FUDGE: Isaac D'Israeli, father of the 19th-century British prime
minister, found in a 17th-century pamphlet a curious origin of the
word fudge, meaning "Nonsense! Humbug!" He quotes: "There was in
our time one Captain Fudge, commander of a merchantman [the Black
Eagle], who upon his return from a voyage, how ill fraught soever
his ship was, always brought home to his owners a good crop of lies;
so much that now, aboard ship, the sailors when they hear a great
lie told, cry out, 'You fudge it.'"
GAT: A contraction of gatling gun, the name of the first machine gun,
invented by R. G. Gatling. Not to be confused with "Tommy guns"
which are the Thompson submachine guns. A gat has come be a a
generic term for any portable firearm.
GIBBERISH: Being "rapid, inarticulate, foolish talk," it probably
corrupts the imitative "jabber." But Dr. Samuel Johnson, king of
lexicographers (though occasionally he nodded on his throne: once
he called an attic attic the highest room of a house, and the
cockloft the room over the attic), attributed gibberish to Geber,
the name of a legendary Arabian alchemist.
GRANGERIZE: To grangerize is to illustrate text with pictures taken from
other books or publications, from Jame Granger, an Anglican divine
who in 1769 published a "Biographical History of England", leaving
spaces in the text where illustrations filched from other texts
could be inserted.
GUILLOTINE: The inventor, a French physician, J. I. Guillotin, thought
his invention was a great humanitarian contribution: a speedier and
more efficient method than the drawn-out tortures which had been
used previously for administering the death penalty.
GUY: This term actually derives from Guy Fawkes and the British festival,
Guy Fawkes' Day.
MONKEY WRENCH: A monkey wrench is a wrench with a fixed jaw and an
adjustable jaw set at right angles to the handle. Tradition says it
was first devised by a London blacksmith named Charles Moncke,
Moncke changing to monkey by folk derivation. A difficulty with this
theory, as Mencken has pointed out, is that the British call a
monkey wrench a spanner. In 1932-33, the Boston Transcript traced
the invention to 1856, crediting it to a Yankee named Monk, employed
by the firm of Bemis and Call in Springfield, Massachusetts.
QUISLING: After Vikdun Quisling, the Norwegian Prime Minister who
invited the Germans to occupy his country at the start of World War II.
SANDWICH: After Fourth Earl of Sandwich (1718-92), for whom sandwiches
were made so that he could stay at the gambling table without
interruptions for meals.
SHRAPNEL: Invented by General Henry Shrapnel (1761-1842), British
SILHOUETTE: After Etienne de Silhouette (1709-67) with reference to
his evanescent career (March-November 1759) as French
© 1994 Peter Langston