July 11: Bowdlerize Day

Today is the birthday of Thomas Bowdler (1754-1825), a man who became infamous for censoring Shakespeare. An Englishman, Bowdler studied medicine at Edinburgh but never practiced; instead, he took his scalpel to the plays of Shakespeare. His mission, according to Nancy Caldwell Sorel in Word People, was “to render Shakespeare fit to be read aloud by a gentleman in the company of ladies.” His first edition of his ten-volume Family Shakespeare was published in 1818 (1).

After he finished with the Bard’s works, Bowdler devoted himself to Edward Gibbon’s The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.

The Nerd Who Became a Verb

Bowdler’s work became so notorious that his name entered the language as a verb meaning “To expurgate prudishly.” Most eponyms — words derived from a person’s name — begin as proper nouns and evolve into common nouns, such as atlas, cardigan, and guillotine.  The word bowdlerize, however, went from a proper noun to a verb, describing “the process of censoring a work by deleting objectionable words or material.”

For example, Lady Macbeth’s “Out, damn’d spot!” became “Out, crimson spot!”

To learn more about eponymous verbs in English, you might explore — or should we say “flesh out” — the etymology of the following verbs.  Each has a real person as its source:

mesmerize
lynch
pasteurize
grangerize
mercerize
boycott
gerrymander
burke
galvanize (1)

Today’s Challenge:  The Flesh Became Word
A good English dictionary will list the names of the best known persons who ever lived; to have your name thus listed means you have achieved virtual universal notoriety.  However, to have your name go from an upper case proper noun to a lower case noun, adjective, or verb is another thing altogether.  Who is a person living today whose life is so distinctive, so influential, or so notorious, that his or her name might enter the dictionary some day as an eponym — a common noun derived from a person’s name? Make your case by writing a mini-biography of the person and by giving specific examples of what he or she has said or done, either good or bad, to merit being immortalized by lexicographers.

Quotation of the Day:  But the truth is, that when a library expels a book of mine and leaves an unexpurgated Bible lying around where unprotected youth and age can get hold of it, the deep unconscious irony of it delights me and doesn’t anger me. –Mark Twain

1 – Sorel, Nancy Caldwell. Word People: Being an Inquiry Into the Lives of Those Person Who Have Lent Their Names to the English Language. New York: American Heritage Press: 1970.

September 16:  Eponymous Law Day

Today is the birthday of Laurence J. Peter (1919-1990), the author of the book The Peter Principle. Peter was an education professor at the University of Southern California and the University of British Columbia, but he became famous in the field of business when he published The Peter Principle in 1969. The book is full of case histories that illustrate why every organization seems to fall short of reaching maximum productivity and profit. His explanation relates to the corporate mentality that promotes productive workers upward until they achieve positions beyond their ability to perform competently.

Peter’s insights into the organizational structures of businesses were so well-received that The Peter Principle has gone well beyond just the title of a popular book; it has entered the language as an adage, immortalizing its creator. The American Heritage Dictionary records the following definition of the Peter Principle:

The theory that employees within an organization will advance to their highest level of competence and then be promoted to and remain at a level at which they are incompetent (1).

Laurence Peter is not alone in the world of eponymous lawsa principle or general rule that named for a person.  Below are some examples of other eponymous laws or principles:

Ockham’s Razor:  Explanations should never multiply causes without necessity. When two explanations are offered for a phenomenon, the simplest full explanation is preferable.

Murphy’s Law:  If anything can go wrong, it will.

The Dilbert Principle:  The most ineffective workers are systematically moved to the place where they can do the least damage: management.

Hofstadter’s Law:  A task always takes longer than you expect, even when you take into account Hofstadter’s Law.

Parkinson’s Law:  Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.

Amara’s Law:  We tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run.

Stigler’s Law of Eponymy:  No scientific discovery, not even Stigler’s law, is named after its original discoverer (2).

Today’s Challenge:  Laying Down the Law
What are some general rules or principles that you have noticed based on your experience of living in the real world?  Attach your name to the one that you think is the most original and most insightful.  Then, explain and define your law, and give examples of when and where the law comes into play and how it can assist people in living better lives. (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Example:

Backman’s Law of Student Speeches:   The likelihood of a sudden, unexpected and unexplainable attack of laryngitis increases the closer a student approaches the period or time when he or she is required to give a speech.

This law helps one anticipate the strange phenomenon which renders students incapable of giving their assigned speeches.  Debilitated by the sudden onset of speechlessness, a student will hobble into class and approach the teacher.  Pointing to his throat and frowning pathetically, the student will then bravely make an attempt to utter a single sentence.  Risking further throat injury, the student will whisper, “I don’t think I’m going to be able -cough! cough! – to go today.” The student will then turn and limp to his seat.  The bout of laryngitis usually ends at the tolling of the class’s final bell, miraculously disappearing just as suddenly as it appeared sixty minutes earlier.  Multiple medical studies by reputable research centers have failed to determine a reasonable cause for this debilitating yet temporary affliction; however, a team of research scientists at John Hopkins is currently conducting a study that promises to produce some breakthrough findings.

Quotation of the Day: A pessimist is a man who looks both ways before crossing a one-way street. –Laurence J. Peter

 

1 – American Heritage Dictionary

2-https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_eponymous_laws

September 10:  Notorious Eponym Day

On this day in 1945, Vidkun Quisling was convicted of high treason for his collaboration with the Germans during during World War II.  A Norwegian politician, Quisling met with Hitler in April 1940, just prior to the Nazi invasion of Norway, and he was appointed Minister-President during the Nazi occupation of Norway.  After the unconditional surrender of Germany in May 1945, Quisling was arrested and put on trial for his treasonist activities during the war and for his collaboration with the Nazis.  After his conviction, he was executed by firing squad on October 24, 1945.  Since that time his name has been synonymous with anyone who collaborates with the enemy (1).

A black and white photographic portrait of a man aged around thirty, looking slightly to his left. He is dressed in a dark suit and tie; his hair is neatly combed into a parting.The word quisling is a classic example of an eponym, a word derived from 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.

Today’s Challenge:  Name Hall of Shame
Who is a person so notorious that his or her name is synonymous with despicable behavior?  Most eponyms have fairly positive, or at least neutral, connotations, such as sandwich, sideburns, and sequoia.  The list of eponyms below, however, have entered the language with decidedly negative connotations.  Select one, and do a bit of etymological research to see if you can discover the person and the story behind the word. Write a brief speech that defines the word and explains why it deserves a spot in the Name Hall of Shame. (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

bowdlerize

chauvinism

draconian

gerrymander

lynch

narcissism

procrustean

Quotation of the Day:  There are still people in my party who believe in consensus politics.  I regard them as Quislings, as traitors.  –Margaret Thatcher

 

1- http://www.historyinanhour.com/2010/10/24/vidkun-quisling-the-norwegian-nazi/

September 16:  Eponymous Adage Day

Today is the birthday of Laurence J. Peter (1919-1990), the author of the book The Peter Principle. Peter was an education professor at the University of Southern California and the University of British Columbia, but he became famous in the field of business when he published The Peter Principle in 1969. The book is full of case histories that illustrate why every organization seems to fall short of reaching maximum productivity and profit. His explanation relates to the corporate mentality that promotes productive workers upward until they achieve positions beyond their ability to perform competently.

Peter’s insights into the organizational structures of businesses were so well-received that The Peter Principle has gone well beyond just the title of a popular book; it has entered the language as an adage, immortalizing its creator. The American Heritage Dictionary records the following definition of the Peter Principle:

The theory that employees within an organization will advance to their highest level of competence and then be promoted to and remain at a level at which they are incompetent (1).

Laurence Peter is not alone in the world of eponymous adages (a proverbial insight that is named for a person). If you’ve ever been a victim of Murphy’s Law, for example, you know that certain rules for living have the signature of the person who first identified them.

Today’s Challenge: An Adage by Any Other Name

See if you can match up each of the eponymous adages listed below with its correct definition:

Dilbert Principle

Parkinson’s Law

Murphy’s Law

Amara’s Law

Hofstadter’s Law

Stigler’s Law of Eponymy

Ockham’s Razor

 

  1. Explanations should never multiply causes without necessity. When two explanations are offered for a phenomenon, the simplest full explanation is preferable.
  2. If anything can go wrong, it will.
  3. The most ineffective workers are systematically moved to the place where they can do the least damage: management.
  4. It [a task] always takes longer than you expect, even when you take into account Hofstadter’s Law.
  5. Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.
  6. We tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run.
  7. No scientific discovery, not even Stigler’s law, is named after its original discoverer (2).

Quotation of the Day: A pessimist is a man who looks both ways before crossing a one-way street. –Laurence J. Peter

Answers: 1. Ockham’s Razor 2. Murphy’s Law, ascribed to Major Edward A. Murphy, Jr. 3. Dilbert Principle, coined by Scott Adams, author of the comic strip Dilbert. 4. Hofstadter’s Law, named after Douglas Hofstadter. 5. Parkinson’s Law, coined by C. Northcote Parkinson. 6. Amara’s Law, proposed by Roy Amara. 7. Stigler’s law of eponymy

1 – American Heritage Dictionary

http://www.bartleby.com/61/4/P0220400.html

 

2 – List of adages named after people

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adages_named-after_people

 

September 10: Notorious Eponym Day

On this day in 1945, Vidkun Quisling was convicted of high treason for his collaboration with the Germans during during World War II.  A Norwegian politician, Quisling met with Hitler in April 1940, just prior to the Nazi invasion of Norway, and he was appointed Minister-President during the Nazi occupation of Norway.  After the unconditional surrender of Germany in May 1945, Quisling was arrested and put on trial for his treasonist activities during the war and for his collaboration with the Nazis.  After his conviction, he was executed by firing squad on October 24, 1945.  Since that time his name has become synonymous with any traitor who collaborates with enemy occupiers (1).

The word quisling is a classic example of an eponym, a word derived from 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.

Today’s Challenge:  Quiz on Quisling-like Eponyms

Most eponyms have fairly positive, or at least neutral, connotations, such as sandwich, sideburns, and sequoia.  The list of eponyms below, however, have entered the language with decidedly negative connotations.  Do a bit of etymological research to see if you can discover the story and the character behind each word.

bowdlerize

chauvinism

draconian

gerrymander

lynch

narcissism

procrustean

Quotation of the Day:  There are still people in my party who believe in consensus politics.  I regard them as Quislings, as traitors.  –Margaret Thatcher

1- http://www.historyinanhour.com/2010/10/24/vidkun-quisling-the-norwegian-nazi/