This is the first in a series of blog posts I’ll be doing about eponyms so I better start by explaining what an eponym is. It’s a person or thing (real or fictional) for which an invention, discovery or object is named. You may be more familiar with the term if I give an example – Louis Braille is known as the eponymous inventor of the reading system for the partially sighted and blind.
My list of eponyms will be far from complete because I’m only choosing ones that I find intriguing, but if you’re interested in further information I can recommend the Wiki post about eponyms.
This week’s eponym is one that every school-child in Ireland knows, and is probably the first eponym I ever encountered – boycott.
Captain Charles Cunningham Boycott was a land agent for Lord Erne on his Co. Mayo estate in Ireland. This was common practice at the time when many owners of large estates in Ireland actually lived in England and were “absentee landlords”. They’d hire an estate manager or land agent to collect the rents and manage the land in their absence. This wasn’t popular with the tenants.
In the autumn of 1880 there had been a bad harvest in the area and the Land League (like a union for tenants which was aiming for landownership to be transferred to the farmers) called on Boycott to ask for a rent reduction as a result. He refused.
The Land League, inspired by Charles Stuart Parnell’s speech on the subject, “sent him to moral coventry” – all tenants refused to bring in the harvest or have any dealings with Boycott. Shops wouldn’t serve him. The post boy wouldn’t deliver the letters. Even the laundry refused their sheets.
He hired in 50 labourers from Cavan and Monaghan and they needed a thousand soldiers to protect them from the peaceful protests. It is estimated that it cost £10,000 to harvest £500 worth of crops.
The case became notorious and the Boycott family were forced to return to England in a hurry. The story was made into a film in 1947 starring Stewart Granger.
To this day boycott is used to describe any shunning of people, organisations, corporations, and countries which disrespect human rights.
Interested in eponyms? I’ve written a book about nearly 300 of them and the lives of the fascinating people who gave their name to English. “How To Get Your Name In The Dictionary” is out now in Amazon paperback (USA and UK), and ebook for Kindle, iBooks, and on Kobo.
Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,