Got a Word Named after You? Eponyms

Another Amaze-ing Words Wednesday, and I’m ready to enter the labyrinth of language where surprises await us each week. It’s time to feature another kind of word defined by its etymology: eponyms. Eponyms are words named after a person–real or fictional.

For instance, you’ve probably all heard of sideburns, named after Civil War Union General Ambrose Burnside who sported ridiculously long facial hair that grew from his ears to his mustache. Originally, such facial hair were called burnsides, and then sideburns. Or how about an atlas? Our bound collections of world maps were named for the mythological Titan Atlas who presumably held up the globe on his shoulders.

Let’s take a look at some other fascinating ones. These examples are from the fabulous book Anonyponymous by John Bemelmans Marciano, whose books I highly recommend to language lovers.

Boycott. British Army Captain Charles Boycott became a land agent for Lord Erne’s estate in the Irish countryside. A bad crop in 1879 threatened the lands of potato growers, and a Land League was formed that promised retaliation against anyone who attempted to evict the Irish tenant farmers. Boycott posted writs of eviction, and in turn was ostracized by his community. “No shop would serve him, the postman stopped delivering his mail, and even his church congregation gave him the deep freeze.” Thus, we have the word “boycott”–meaning “to combine in abstaining from, or preventing dealings with, as a means of intimidation or coercion.” As for Charles Boycott, he left the area before Christmas, and the British Prime Minister introduced legislation that met many of the Land League’s demands.

Frisbee. We can thank a pie maker in Bridgeport, Connecticut for this name. Originally the brainchild of drunk Yale students who ate a pie and started playing catch with the tin, it became popular across the Yale campus for students to purchase a pie from Mrs. Frisbie’s Pies of Bridgeport and then use the pie tin to play a game. Mrs. Frisbie was hardly complaining when her sales reached 80,000 a day in 1956. Meanwhile, Fred Morrison created the flying disc we know of today, which caught the eye of Wham-O. They decided the fun disc needed a fun name, so they adopted the one already in use where pie tins were flying through the air. Of course, they had to change the spelling, but that’s how we got the frisbee. Thanks to Mrs. Frisbie for such a great name. (If her name had been Mrs. Scherbatsky, would we all be tossing Scherbatskys?)

Guillotine. I’m sure you can already guess that some cold-hearted executioner is behind this one. Physician Joseph-Ignace Guillotin proposed a method of execution to the French Revolutionary body in 1789. He thought it would be more efficient and humane. I suppose that compared to some of the executions of the day, it was a quicker and thus nicer way to go. All this has led us to rather useful guillotines of today: the bagel guillotine; the cigar guillotine; and the paper guillotine trimmer. Thanks, Dr. Guillotin!

Jacuzzi. Candido Jacuzzi was a loving father who wanted to help his son who suffered from severe rheumatoid arthritis. So he invented a portable pump that he could put into a bathtub to recreate a whirlpool. His nephew, Roy Jacuzzi, saw greater opportunity and began producing the pump as a product from their family business in the 1960s. The sales of jacuzzi pumps outdistanced the sales of their regular product–aircraft equipment–and took over.

Leotard. Jules Léotard invented two things–the flying trapeze and the one-piece costume he flew through the air in. Jules was a novice acrobat who did his routine on fixed bars, like everyone else. Then one day, voila! the notion occurred to him to let those bars swing. In 1859 he debuted his flying trapeze act and became an international superstar. He then redesigned the standard acrobat clothing into a single piece that clung to his body–aka the “leotard.” Circus performers, gymnasts, and ballet dancers can thank The Daring Man on the Flying Trapeze.

Mausoleum. A Persian satrap (local ruler) named Mausolos had a super-swank tomb. In 335 B.C. after he died, his wife/sister Artemisia was so broken up that she commissioned a whopping memorial so amazing that it was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Eventually, as in 16 centuries later, earthquakes got to this architecture marvel, but to this day large tomb with statues and architectural finery are called mausoleums after the ruler Mausolos.

Paparazzi. Thanks to Lady Gaga, I can no longer say this word, but rather I sing it, “Papa, Paparazzi.” But this word came into use long before Gaga hit the scene. The classic movie La Dolce Vita (1960) from famed director Federico Fellini included a character who made a living taking secret photos of celebrities around town. Screenwriter Ennio Flaiano wasn’t sure what to name this character until he ran across English novelist George Gissing’s travel book By the Ionian Sea in which he mentions a lodging proprietor by the surname of Paparazzo. The photographer was thus named Paparazzo, and the term paparazzi came to mean those picture-takers who will do nearly anything to get a candid shot of a celebrity.

Ritzy. César Ritz started in Paris as a waiter, but through work and flair rose to become a hotelier himself. He co-managed London’s Savoy Hotel and then opened the Hotel Ritz in 1898. The Hotel Ritz, and César himself, were displays of luxury that captured the wealthy’s attention. Thus, a highfalutin’ place or person became known as “ritzy.”

Voltage. I’m sure you science types already know this one, but for the rest of us, let me introduce Alessandro Volta, a high school physics teacher from Como, Italy. He posited that electric current was produced by contact of the two different metals. Volta tinkered with electricity and, using his knowledge, developed the world’s first battery in 1800. Thus, the charge contained in the battery is known as its “voltage.”

Zeppelin. I credit Jimmy Page and Led Zeppelin for keeping this term alive, since you almost never see a zeppelin anymore, but Led Zeppelin is heard all over the airwaves (and apparently on VP Candidate Paul Ryan’s playlist). The original word, however, comes from Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin, an aviator who worked with the Union Army Balloon Corps doing reconnaissance. After the Civil War, von Zeppelin concluded that he could build a motor-powered balloon with a hard shell and patented one in 1899. Zeppelins were used as commercial flights, bombers in World War I, and for civilian flights after the war. Perhaps we’ll see more soon with Goodyear’s announcement last year that they will be purchasing three zeppelins to add to their blimp fleet.

Did you know these eponyms? Were you even familiar with the word “eponym”? Do you have any others to share?

Sources: Anonyponymous by John Bemelmans Marciano; Everything You Know about English Is Wrong;

Special Guest on Language: Gallagher

Today is Amaze-ing Words Wednesday! I admit, however, that I am frantically getting ready to attend the DFW Writers’ Conference on May 19-20. So today, I want to give you the treat of a special guest on the subject of our tricky English language.

I hope you enjoy this fabulous comedy bit from one of my favorite comedians, Gallagher. He is talking about trying to learn English at school and the resulting confusion.

Have a great week, y’all!

ROW80 Note: I don’t usually check-in on Wednesdays, but I want to announce that I finished the first draft of my YA novel, SHARING HUNTER, on Tuesday. My fellow ROW80 writers — with their encouragement, accountability, and word sprinting — helped me so much. Thanks! And now begins the editing.

Parental Proverbs and Phrases

Welcome to Amaze-ing Words Wednesday, where we creep through the English language labyrinth with a flashlight and a good dose of curiosity. Today, however, we might be hearing in our brains such admonitions as “When the going gets tough, the tough get going” or “Look where you’re going, not where you’ve been.”

Whatever the saying, you probably have some proverb stuck your head that your parents planted there by repetition in your childhood. Why not use clever language to instruct your kids? My parents passed on to me the following:

A thing worth doing is worth doing well. This was a nice way for my father to say, “Get your chore done, and do it right.” Also, it reminded us to give it our best with schoolwork, extracurricular activities, and service.

Don’t upset the applecart. Never mind that the image of a street vendor selling fruit was not in this city girl’s mental Pinterest, my mother threw out that gem to remind us not to pick fights or overreact.

Come into port with all of your flags flying. No, we were not boat people. However, growing up in Corpus Chisti, Texas along the Gulf Coast, I saw plenty of boats. My father used this proverb to let us know how important it was to follow something through to the end. It was often pulled out after Spring Break when the desire of most teenagers is to let their flag sag and cross the end-of-school-year finish line in a ragged heap.

Shake a leg. Not really a proverb exactly, but I cannot count the number of times my mother suggested we be on time (or just a few minutes later instead of embarrassingly late) by using this phrase. It simply means to hurry up already!

Don’t toot your own horn. “Oh Lord, it’s hard to be humble when you’re perfect in every way.” Yet my father would remind us not to brag about ourselves. Let someone else give a compliment and thank them for it. But let your actions speak for themselves; no need to boast.

I find myself adopting my own parental sayings for my children. I suppose it’s a habit all of us parents have. Here are a few I’ve tried.

When you win, celebrate; when you lose, congratulate. You’ll find that I like rhyming sayings. I came up with this one for my son who started playing t-ball at 4 1/2 years old (he’d been begging to play for several months already). Learning good sportsmanship is a primary goal of athletic endeavors with children. This was a way for him to remember how to behave when things do and don’t go your way in a game.

Commentary unnecessary. I use this phrase a lot! When you have more than one child, at some point you will give instructions to one and the other will want to add their own commentary to what you’re saying. It can be as simple as “Oh yeah, what Mom said!” or “He also hasn’t finished his math homework and played video games for an hour.” Whatever the issue, I try to let the non-instructed child know that I’m the parent and I’ve got it covered. Thus, “commentary unnecessary.” At this point, however, I just say, “Commentary–” and my children finish, “unnecessary.”

This ain’t no party, this ain’t no disco, this ain’t no foolin’ around. Well, I did try this one out. It seemed perfect for those times when we need to get serious about cleaning, getting ready, eating, etc., but instead my children are messing around and wasting time. As it turned out, Talking Heads lyrics were a little wasted on munchkins born post-1990. It’s fallen by the wayside. *sigh*

I’m wondering what I should add to my repertoire and what other parental proverbs and phrases are being used out there. So whatcha got? What parental sayings do you recall from your childhood? What sayings have you repeated with your children?

And to leave you with the mother of all parental proverbs and phrases, here is the fabulous comedian Anita Renfroe with The Mom Song, to the tune of the William Tell Overture:

By the way, I’m guest posting today over at Nicole Basaraba’s blog as part of her series on genre. I’m taking a look at Young Adult (YA) Fiction.

Merci Beaucoup: Borrowing from the French

One of the great things about English is that we have no compunction about borrowing from anyone else. Our language is a hodge-podge of words from various regions. For today’s Amaze-ing Words Wednesday, I’d like to thank the French for their contribution to the English language by highlighting some words we stole borrowed from them.

Biscuit – Originally taken from the French word “bescuit” meaning twice-baked. I guess a biscuit is twice-baked, somehow. But it isn’t, is it?

Butcher – Taken from the French word “bouchier” which literally means “slaughterer of goats.” The term is also applied to executioners and murderers – whether their victims are goat-like or not.

Cliché – Clicher is presumably the sound of a mold striking molten metal – part of the printing process. A cliché is thus the French word for stereotype, derived from printing jargon. That’s appropriate since writers are perhaps the ones most likely to use clichés.

Curfew – From the French word “coeverfu,” meaning “cover fire.” In medieval times, there was a practice of ringing a bell to signal the time to extinguish hearth fires and prepare for sleep. The signal was in hopes of preventing unintentional conflagrations. Now, it’s primarily a warning to teens to put out the smooching fire and head home.

Garage – Derived from the French verb “garer,” meaning to shelter. Garages were thus automobile stables, or shelters. Nowadays, however, many of us are simply sheltering the excess stuff that won’t fit in our house but we can’t seem to get rid of.

Parliament – From the French word “parlement.” The verb “parler” means to talk in French. (Remember “Parlais vous Francais?”) To this day, parliaments do a whole lot of talking. What else they do is a subject of debate.

Rapport – “Rapporter” in French meant to bring back (Re – back/again, porter – bring). By 1894, this somehow began to apply to a harmonious relationship. Maybe people had good relationships with their porters. I would definitely want to keep things harmonious with the guy who watches over my stuff.

Regret – From “Regreter,” meaning to weep or wail after. “Greter” is likely from the Frankish term for weeping or groaning. I know that every time I eat a calorie-heavy French meal, I experience a bit of regret there.

Résumé – “Resumer” is to sum up. A résumé is an effort to sum up your entire work history on about one page and still get an employer to think you can do it all. Good luck with that.

Sauté – Sauté in French literally means jumped or bounced. Apparently, that refers to how you toss that garlic around in the pan and let in bounce in the oil. I am not a cook, but I have mastered this cooking activity.

Tennis – “Tenetz” was called out by the server to the receiver, and it means “hold, receive, take!” Interestingly, “requette” means palm of the hand, which was the original way of hitting a tennis ball, and it eventually became racquet, that thing you hold in your hand instead. (Personal note: I got to watch Roger Federer play in a tournament in Houston some time ago. Great sport!)

Umpire – “Nonper” is broken down as not (“non”) + equal (“per”). A non-equal here was a third person brought in to arbitrate between two. In French, it became “noumper.” Then the “n” got dropped somewhere along the way. Yada, yada, yada…umpire. Personally, I would have guessed the word umpire meant something like “cockeyed” or “stubborn,” at least when my son is batting.

Unique – From the French “unique.” Actually in Latin, “unicus” means single, or solitary, one. Despite its common use as meaning special or remarkable, “unique” actually means one of a kind.

Le Freak – Okay, this isn’t a French or an English word exactly, but anyone growing up in my era knows what this is. Thank you, Chic, for this French-y tidbit. Here’s the music video (and it’s from a French TV show):

What other French words do you know of that we have happily added to our English dictionary? Do you like that English borrows from other languages?

Sources: WISC-Online; Etymologically Speaking;; Online Etymology Dictionary