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Interesting Etymologies 42 : People

Updated: Mar 9, 2022

"Hello again Word Lovers!"

And today we will be looking at words that come from the names of people. We are not going to delve into the etymology of the name as such but take a look at words for things or concepts that have come into the language via the name of the person that popularised the idea, product or concept.

Cardigan : The Earl of Cardigan liked to wear a woollen knitted garment, people copied him and it became known as a Cardigan. It was the 7th Earl of Cardigan, James Brudenell, who supposedly invented the garment during the Crimean War. His knitted woollen waistcoat that formed part of the uniform in the cold conditions lost its tails after being too close to a fireplace. Brudenell was most famed for leading the charge of the Light Brigade in that conflict at the Battle of Balaclava. Another etymology related to knitted clothing we explored here (IE 31 Turkic)

Wellingtons: The Duke of Wellington, Arthur Wellesley, insisted on having his bots made out of leather and not hessian. His boot maker credited his commercial success to the popularity of the "Wellington Boot" which later were mass produced and made out of rubber as a waterproof footwear.

Sandwich: John Montague, The 4th Earl of Sandwich, an avid gambler, requested meat tucked between two pieces of bread so he could continue playing cards and not make them greasy. It is stated in his official biography that this is true but not something requested at the gambling table but at his desk, at work.

Maverick: Samuel Maverick, a cattle owner who refused to brand his cattle and bucked the trend. This idea of being a loner who does not follow the crowd, that behaves in unpredictable ways, became described as being a Maverick. In fact his grandson invented the word gobbledegook. Defined as the nonsense spoken by bombastic people. Bombastic, from bombast traces back to raw cotton used for padding in the 16th century before eventually being found in a PIE root for "twist". It has often been stated that bombast in the modern use comes from Paracelsus, the medieval alchemist. (Philippus Aureolus Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim). While it could be argued he was the very definition of bombastic there is no evidence to show the use of the word was adopted from his name.

Boycott: Captain Charles Boycott. The land agent for absentee landlord Lord Erne in County Mayo, Ireland. A dispute between the tenants and Lord Erne led to instructions for Boycott to evict eleven tenants. Charles Stewart Parnell proposed a campaign of shunning the individual rather than violence. Workers stopped work in his fields and stables, local businesses would not deal with him, even the postman refused to deliver mail. The tactic and the name became an instant global phenomenon.

Quisling: Vidkun Abraham Lauritz Jonssøn Quisling: The Norwegian Nazi collaborator who held the nominal post at the head of the government under German occupation. His name has come to be used to describe a traitor or collaborator. We have seen this word before in (IE 23 Insults )

JCB: Joseph Cyril Bamford the man who invented the branded mechanical excavator.

Biro: Laslav Biro, the inventor of the biro pen.

Jacuzzi: The Jacuzzi family emigrated from Italy to America and one of the brothers developed arthritis the family adapted the motor boat pumps they manufactured to create a hydrotherapy device.

Dunce: John Duns Scotus a medieval philosopher found himself on the wrong side of an argument and following generations took his name to mean someone who was stupid or who had failed academic assessment.

Bluetooth: Harald Bluetooth Danish King. The Bluetooth logo is based on the two Nordic runes that represent his name. The technology was officially named after the king in 1997. It was based on the analogy that it would unite devices much as he had united the tribes of Denmark.

Nicotene: Jean Nicot was the French ambassador to Portugal who introduced France to tobacco. His name was given to the plant and then more specifically, the chemical compound in the plant.

Braille: Louis Braille invented the braille language for blind people.

Guillotine: Joseph-Ignace Guillotine did not invent the grizzly execution device that became synonymous with the French revolution but was the minister that passed the law to bring it into use.

Leotard: Jules Leotard invented the aerial trapeze act in 1859 and with it, the Leotard.

Silhouette: Étienne de Silhouette, the French finance minister was forced to inflicted austerity measures on his country in 1759 and his name became a slang expression for "doing things on the cheap". Outline portraits were a cheap alternative to an expensive painting and the name became attached.

Mesmerise: Anton Mesmer and his ability to hypnotise generated an alternative verb for this activity.

Masochism: Leopold van Sacher Masoch. "Sexual pleasure in being hurt or abused" coined by neurologist Richard von Krafft-Ebing. Masoch did not approve of the use of his name for the term. He is not to be confused with the Marquis de Sade (who was not a Marquis either).

Sadism: The Marquis de Sade (actually the Count Donatien A.F. de Sade) was famous for the sexual cruelty described in his novels. Many of his books were bowdlerized to enable people to read them-

Bowdlerize: Thomas Bowlder published an expurgated edition of the works of William Shakespeare and his name became a verb to expurgate "vulgar" parts of texts. It is interesting to note that it was his sister Harriet who did the censoring.

Sideburns: Ambrose Burnside was a Governor of Rhode Island and Senator in the mid to late 1800s. He had fantastic facial hair that extended from a large moustache into a pair of impressive, well, sideburns.

Luddite: Ned Ludd was said to be an apprentice weaver in Leicestershire who smashed two stocking frames in 1779 and whose name became synonymous with the movement that resisted increasing technology in the textile industry by smashing up the machines. Ned Ludd was in fact entirely fictional and in fact developed into the fictional General Ludd or King Ludd who "lived" in Sherwood Forest like Robin Hood.

Lynch: Charles Lynch, the Virginia Quaker put British loyalists in prison for over a year. This technically is what was known as lynching, but the word has taken on a much more macabre meaning, exacting summary justice, normally a barbaric murder.

Explore the full Interesting Etymologies series archive here

As well as being the host of our Interesting Etymologies series, Charly Taylor is a stand up comedian and author. His latest offering is available now:

SkipDeLirio's Worst Ever Gig : A novel by Charly Taylor

Caesar’s army has returned from the long campaign in Gaul and the enemy has been all but defeated. Some of Pompey’s army, however, remains in Africa. Together with straggling Roman rebels and the local king Juba, they are gathering forces to prepare one last attack on what is now Caesar’s Rome. But there is one problem – a descendant of Scipio Africanus is fighting on the side of the Africans. And without a Scipio of their own, the superstitious Romans refuse to go to Africa to fight.

So Caesar sends out soldiers to find himself a Scipio. Luckily, there is a man of such name right there in Rome – a local drunkard and tavern entertainer distantly descended from the legendary warrior. Kidnapped solely on account of his ‘heritage’, the lowly clown is forced to lead out the troops in the battle of Thapsus. There, ‘history’ tells us, Scipio ‘disappears from the historical record’.

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