An eponym is a word derived from the name of a real or imaginary person. For example, the word shrapnel evolved from Henry Shrapnel, an English artillery officer who developed an exploding shell that sent out bits of metal. Most often the capitalized proper noun that refers to the specific person becomes lowercase as it is transformed into a general noun, adjective, or verb. Other examples of eponyms are boycott, cardigan, and silhouette.
So, what makes May 28 a date related to the de-capitalization of words? Well, it just happens to be the birthday of the “Father of Decapitation,” Joseph Ignace Guillotin (1738-1814), the inventor of the guillotine. Ironically, this French physician was against capital punishment. He suggested his invention to the French Legislative Assembly with the hope that a more humane and less painful form of execution would be a logical stepping stone to the elimination of capital punishment altogether.
The words capitalization and capital punishment share a common etymology; Cap in Latin means head. Capital as it refers to letters, therefore, means head letter. Capital, as it refers to capital punishment, means execution by decapitation.
Today’s Challenge: Off With Their Head Letters
What are some examples of English words that might have originated from the names of people? Use a good dictionary to lookup the meanings of at least two of the following eponyms. Then, do some research to find the complete capitalized first and last names of the people from whom they are derived. Also, give some of the biographical details about the individuals and what made them influential enough to be immortalized in the dictionary.
amp, braille, bowdlerize, braille, chauvinism, clerihew, diesel, doily, galvanize, gerrymander, leotard, lynch, maverick, mesmerize, nicotine, ohm, pasteurize, quisling, sandwich, saxophone, spoonerism, tawdry, teddy bear, volt, watt, zeppelin (Common Core Language 4 – Knowledge of Words and Language)
Quotation of the Day: Two men look through the same bars; one sees the mud, and the other the stars. –Frederick Langbridge