Most of us know where sandwich comes from: the Earl of Sandwich, the first person to eat meat between two slices of bread. Common, too, is the knowledge that another British noble, Lord Cardigan, gave his name to the woolen jacket.
Few of us, however, are familiar with the origins of words like asphalt, bigot, and comma. Like sandwich and cardigan, these words, called eponyms, are derived from the names of real people. Eponyms, in fact, abound in our language; without them, botch, doldrums, fiasco, hoist, and coffin would not exist.
Leopold von Asphalt (1802-1880), for example, was a wealthy Bavarian landlord who developed a mixture of bitumen, pitch, and sand for making roads. Nathaniel Bigot (1575-1660), an English Puritan preacher, was notorious for his intolerant zeal. And Domenico da Comma (12601316) was an Italian Dominican scholar whose signature punctuation mark led to a charge of heresy by the Inquisition. Commas, apparently, were not found in the earliest manuscripts of the Bible and were therefore considered an insult to God.
And what about Jeremy Botch? While building the Brighton Pavilion, the English carpenter had made a screen that fell on the royal head of the Prince Regentand a new term was coined. To Frederick Doldrum (178~1839), an English naval officer whose voyages were prolonged by extended periods of calm at sea, we credit the word doldrums. And the Italian opera impresario Alessandro Fiasco (1792-1869) produced Lucia di Lammermoor at Mantua in 1837, only to find his stage collapsing, injuring many in the cast
But not all eponyms are borne of embarrassing circumstances. While Samuel Hoist (1535-1599), an English soldier, was fighting in the Netherlands, he devised a tactic for lifting siege equipment, including heavy mines called petards. Matthew Coffin (1480-1540), a carpenter who became Lord Mayor of London, was working for the Dominicans at Blackfriars when he first made wooden boxes for the dead.
Thanks to eponyms, we can go on a binge at a ritzy salon and have a buffet of, say, avocado, curry, and marmalade with a glass of Dom Perignon. You can also listen to cabaret music on the bugle and saxophone. For all this pleasure, we are first indebted to Sir Oswald Binge (1678-1768), who consumed vast amounts of food and drink at weeklong meals. And cheers to Cezar Ritz (1850-1918), the Swiss founder of those elegant hotelsas well as Marquise Henriette de Salon (1680-1743), who entertained guests in her Paris and Versailles houses.
For buffet food and drink, we have Pierre Buffet to thank. The 17th-century Parisian gambler began the custom of letting guests serve themselves from food on a side table. Our taste buds appreciate as well Jorge Avocado (1798-1868), an Argentinian botanist who introduced the fruit to Europe, and Sir George Curry (1826-1890), a British general in India who became exceedingly fond of highly spiced stews. And, lest we forget, it was Joao Marmalado (1450-1510) from Portugal who first made breakfast "jam" by boiling oranges with sugar.
For entertainment, we praise Antoine de Cabaret (1749-1793), owner of Cafe Rue du Bac in Paris. Dom Perignon (1638-1715), a blind French Benedictine monk, invented champagne and other sparkling wines. And it was Hereward Bugle and Adolphe Sax who deserve credit for the boisterous accompaniments that bear their respective names. Further, should your playing ever land you in deep water, galoshes, invented by Manchester-born Joseph Galosh (1839-1909), might come in handy.
In the fashion world, eponyms are numerous: Etienne Corset (1760-1832) was a French tailor who made stiffened undergarments for army officers; later, the contraptions were adapted for women's use; George Duffel (1796-1843) was a British naval purser who made simple coats for sailors which became popular among civilians ashore; Charles Mackintosh (1766-1843), a Scottish chemist, patented a waterproof fabric for raincoats; and Jacob Trowser (1779-1848), an English tailor, advertised his garments as "Trowser's Patent Leggings: Hygienic and Economical."
Then there's Emil Haversack (1819-1888), a German mail carrier who designed a bag for carrying mail on his back. And Emily Satchel (1834-1905), a U.S. poet, once had her portrait painted by Picasso, but is now remembered more for her bag than her poems. Satchel could perhaps commiserate with the Italian Lorenzo Motto (1382-1459), an unsuccessful poet who adopted the motto"short and sweet" to sell his works.
Finally, the term doggerel derives from the English poet Matthew Doggerel (1330-1405), whose verses are rightly forgotten.
But thats not it for eponyms. Not yet. Imre Kiosk (1862-1921), a Hungarian, made a fortune from his chain of 400 stalls offering newspapers and cigarettes throughout the Austro-Hungarian Empire. And Walter Gadget (1848-1918), U.S. businessman, sold such ingenious household devices that his name stuck in the public's memory.
But other eponyms, like dunce, owe their existence to less remarkable beginnings. Scottish Franciscan philosopher John Duns Scotus (1266-1308), whose writings were ridiculed in the 16th century, gets the credit, of course. And the word boycott comes from Captain Charles Boycott (1832-1897), a British landlord's agent in Ireland who was ostracized by his tenants in 1879.
Amid such entertaining names, one rises above all others. Unique among eponyms is spoonerism, which first appeared in the Oxford Dictionary in 1885, defined as "an accidental transposition of the initial sounds, or other parts, of two or more words." Spoonerism owes its origin to Dr. William Spooner (1844-1930), a lovable Anglican cleric and scholar who lectured in divinity and philosophy at Oxford. His unintentional syllable juggling is said to have been the result of a weakness of the association center in his brain. The first recorded example was during a church service at Oxford in 1879, when Spooner told the congregation, "We will now sing Hymn 87, Kinquering congs their tatles tike." In another sermon, he said, "Our Lord is a shoving leopard."
Through the centuries, eponymists have provided us with many useful things from buffets to bugles. But Spoonerand othersleft us with even more than useful names for useful things; they gave us a legacy of laughter. Indeed, Spooner's slips of the tongue still found sunny today.
From an old Catholic Digest, issue unknown
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