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Eponyms are everywhere we look
Mar 06, 2014
An eponym is a word which comes to us from a proper noun — often arriving unchanged as boycott did.
Boycott is far from the only eponym in the English language. We don’t have to look far to find others. Here are a few such words, none of which has undergone any kind of alteration:
• Stetson — named for John B. Stetson (1830-1906), the American hat-maker who made the first cowboy hat.
• Cardigan — James Thomas Brudenell, Seventh Earl of Cardigan (1797-1863), was the English general who led the suicidal Charge of the Light Brigade at Balaclava (Balaklava) in the Crimea in 1854. The open-front sweater takes its name from him.
• Balaclava — That knitted pull-on cap that protects head, face, and neck also dates to the Crimean War. Balaklava is located in Ukraine. Both cardigan and balaclava should be of interest today, given the unrest now currently disrupting Crimea.
• Bloomer (bloomers) — Originally, a bloomer referred to long loose trousers worn by women in the 1890s. Later, the word was applied to women’s underpants. They’re named for Amelia Jenks Bloomer (1818-1894), an American agitator for women’s voting rights.
Not all eponyms concern items of clothing, of course. Braille, the touch-reading system used by the blind, is named for its French inventor, Louis B. Braille (1809-52), and the verbatim record of Commonwealth legislative proceedings called Hansard, echoes the name of Luke Hansard (1752-1828), a British printer.
If someone accuses you of being a quisling, he is calling you a traitor. Vidkun Quisling (1887-1945) was the Norwegian Fascist leader who betrayed Norway in 1940 and helped Hitler to conquer that country.
Thank the title of John Montagu (1718-92), the Earl of Sandwich,  for that tasty standby, the sandwich.
James Watt (1736-1819) was the Scottish inventor after whom the unit of power known as a watt is called.
We got shrapnel from General Henry Shrapnel (1761-1892), an English artillery officer who devised shrapnel-shell ammunition which exploded while airborne and scattered shot and shell casings.
Often, an eponym undergoes slight change in spelling, perhaps an additional syllable. It’s still an eponym even though altered. Thus, we have galvanize from the name of Italian physiologist, Luigi Galvani (1737-98), and guillotine from its inventor, French physician J.I. Guillotin (1738-1814).
Sadism, sadistic and sadist are from the name of the Marquis de Sade (1740-1814), a French writer whose books focused on sexual violence.
The handgun known as a Derringer was invented by and named for Henry Deringer (1786-1863), an American small arms manufacturer.
Today, we seldom see doilies — the singular is doily — because they’ve gone out of style. The word comes from the 17th-century Doyley family, English drapers and dealers in lace and linen.
Some eponyms have come from mythology. The collection of maps we know as an Atlas is from the name of the Greek Titan, Atlas, who reputedly held the heavens in place.
Titan, a person of superior strength, intellect or status, is from those same Titans, a race of giants in Greek myth who supposedly preceded the Olympian gods.
Eponyms are everywhere. Look for them.