Friday, April 17, 2009


“Before employing a fine word, make a place for it.” –Joseph Joubert

Eponyms are words based on or derived from a person’s name. DailyWritingTips has compiled a fun list, 30 Words Inspired by 29 People and an Elephant. These are eponyms that are not based on a person’s name but on “…physical features, manner of dress, writing style, profession, or behavior–associated with specific people (and one elephant).”

I was familiar with the origins of a few of the words, such as casanova, C-section, and luddite, but most of the words had stories attached that I had not heard before such as:

bowdlerize - “remove sexually offensive words or passages from a written work before publishing it.” From Thomas Bowdler (1754-1825) who published an edition of Shakespeare that left out such things as the porter scene in Macbeth. As preposterous as the idea may seem now, it was a boon to women who had previously been deterred from reading the plays by their parents, husbands, or dread of social disapproval.

boycott - “refuse to do business with with someone.” From Charles C. Boycott (1832-1897), the Irish land agent for an absentee landlord. Boycott refused to conform to land reforms supported by the Irish Land League. The League acted against Boycott by preventing his access to stores, postal service and other economic necessities. Boycotting is an important tool in campaigns of passive resistance to unjust social conditions.

cardigan - “style of sweater that opens at the front.” From James Thomas Brudenell, 7th Earl of Cardigan who is said to have worn a knitted waistcoat to keep warm on campaign. He was one of the commanders in the field on the day of the fatal Charge of the Light Brigade in the Crimean War.

Click here for the full list and to find out which word was based on an elephant.

One of my favorite eponyms is the word ‘blurb.’ This word came from a book cover designed by humorist Gelett Burgess in 1907. On the cover of his book, Are You a Bromide?, was a picture of a female he called Miss Belinda Blurb, along with accompanying ad text. You can read more about this and see a picture of Miss Blurb at Sentence First.

Do you have a favorite eponym story?

Thanks for stopping by.

Tags: Joubert, eponyms, Bowdler, Boycott, Cardigan, Blurb, Burgess, Belinda Blurb,


L. Diane Wolfe said...

Interesting beginning for the word 'blurb!'

L. Diane Wolfe

Anonymous said...

I honestly didn't know what an eponym was - lol. Interesting to find out this stuff - good post!

Helen Ginger said...

It's fun to find out where words that we use all the time actually started.


kathy said...

You find the most interesting tidbits to share on your blog. Thanks.

Morgan Mandel said...

Thanks for teaching me something new. Also, I love cardigans!

Morgan Mandel

Nancy J. Parra said...

Great post- this is why I enjoy reading blogs. You learn the most interesting things. cheers!

Stan said...

Hello Jane. Thank you for drawing my attention to an interesting list, and for linking to my own piece on the origin of "blurb". I am not convinced that the word is an eponym, since its creation probably preceded Miss Belinda's. Hair-splitting aside, it is a curious word with an interesting history, and one of Gelett Burgess's few neologisms to have attained widespread use.

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