Words named after people

Monday, February 17, 2014

Sometimes it’s easy to know the meanings of English words if you recognize their Latin roots:

bene --> means good --> English word = benefit

manu --> means hand --> English word = manual

There are other times when we’re not so lucky, especially when the word doesn’t give you any clue at all. Words named after people (eponyms) fit in this category.

I think the most famous example of a word originating from a person's name is sandwich, created by the Earl of Sandwich back in 1762. Let's add to the list:

Silhouette = an image of a person, object or scene consisting of the outline and a featureless interior. Named after Etienne de Silhouette in 1759. One of his hobbies was creating paper portraits.

Mentor = teacher or trusted counselor. From Ancient Greece, Mentor is a character in Homer’s Odyssey. The main character, Odysseus, asks Mentor to look after his son, Telemachus, when Odysseus departs for the Trojan War.

Boycott = withdraw from commercial or social relations with (a country, organization, or person) as a punishment or protest. Boycott is named after Captain Charles Boycott, an English land agent in Ireland who, in 1897, was ostracized (excluded from a society or group) for refusing to reduce rents.

It all makes sense when we know the stories behind the words.

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