Posts Tagged ‘history’


This week’s word is champion. If you’ve ever read or watched the “Game of Thrones” series by GRR Martin you’ll be familiar with nobles in trouble invoking the right to Trial By Combat and that’s where the champion enters the story.

In medieval times a king could only fight their peer, another king. Unless they met on the battlefield this was an unlikely event as the monarchs had to be protected at all costs. Instead the king would nominate a champion to meet any challenge on his behalf.

My Champion is Ready for Combat


Champion entered English during the 1200s but there are earlier mentions and given the prevalence of French as the language of nobility at the time it is unsurprising to find champion’s roots in French soil, with a light dusting of compost from Latin.

In Old French a champion was a combatant in single combat on the champ (field) and came from the Latin word campus which means field of combat and makes me wonder what transpires on university campuses.

Related words to champion are the French words for countryside (campagne) and mushrooms (champignon) which make sense in relation to fields, but the one I like is scamp – one who flees the field.

The British monarchy retains the concept of a Royal Champion since 1066A.D. This noble, whose family was given lands as a reward for the work, had to ride up and down before coronations asking if anybody objected. This tradition persists but without the horse these days. The current Royal Champion is also a chartered accountant.

The idea of a champion being a superior sporting star dates from the 1700s.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

p.s. My CampNaNoWriMo 2018 project is coming along well. I’m editing my middle grade adventure book “Red Sails” and enjoying the company of other dedicated writers in the “Editors Unite!” camp cabin.


Read Full Post »


This week’s entry in the Eponym Series is the bowler hat. That rounded, black hat with a neat brim, so closely associated with Britain, and specifically the City of London. You may be familiar with it from the father in “Mary Poppins” or from Rene Magritte’s self-portrait “Man in a Bowler Hat”.

But I was surprised to learn recently that this hard-working little head-covering is an eponym. It was named for its creators, Thomas and William Bowler, London hatters, in 1849. The design requested by the Coke family was for a close-fitting, low-crowned hat. Not because they needed something natty for commuting to the London Stock Exchange, but to protect the heads of their game-keepers on their estate. Top hats were being knocked off by low branches when horse-riding.

I love the way the customer tested its suitability for its task. He put it on the floor, stomped on it twice, and when satisfied, he paid his twelve shillings and left having made millinery history. I would love to see a shop-keeper’s face if I did that to my next purchase.

This iconic hat has been adopted in various countries for the most bizarre of reasons – it was the most popular hat in the Wild West, it is worn by Bolivian women since introduction by British railway workers in the 1920s, a gentleman’s outfitters on German-occupied Jersey in World War Two gave their entire stock of the hats to prisoners of war forced to build the underground hospital on the island, the men of the Niger Delta wear them with walking sticks as the height of fashion, and they’re popular with marching members of the Orange Order and Apprentice Boys in Northern Ireland.

As an intermittant collector of hats, I don’t have a bowler, but now knowing more about its history I think I’ll have to get one on my next trip to London. A more durable souvenir than a plastic Big Ben, perhaps?

Interested in eponyms? Earlier entries in this series are; Lynch Mob, Jeremiad, Ferris Wheel, Guillotine, Wellington Boot, Boycott.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling


p.s. I won NaNoWriMo with a final wordcount of 53,843 and a good start made on “Ready for the Storm”. The region I organise wrote nearly a million words this November. I’m so proud of them.


p.p.s. writing friends may be interested to know there’s a new residential writing centre in Waterford, StoryHouse

Read Full Post »


I always assumed that the inventor of the guillotine pronunciation here) must have been a Frenchman called Guillotine during the Revolution (1789-1799) and it would have been used on nobility only. Assumptions are dangerous things, however.

A blade beheading device invented by Dr. Antoine Louis, originally called a louisette, was used for the first time in 1792 to behead a highwayman called Pelletier. Its eventual name did come from another Frenchman – a humanitarian doctor called Joseph Ignace Guillotin (1738-1814) who argued passionately for its introdution during a debate in the French Assembly in 1789. He said that it would be more humane than the current methods of capital punishment – hanging for commoners and beheading with a sword for nobility.

But the guillotine wasn’t unique to France. Similar devices were used in Scotland, England, Germany, and other European countries, usually for noble executions.

It also wasn’t confined to the ten blood-soaked years of the Revolution when between 17,000 and 40,000 died beneath its slanted blade. The last execution by guillotine in France was in 1977.

After Guillotin’s death his children tried to rename the device, without success, and were ultimately forced to change their own surname – a wisely-rejected eponymnous connection.

As a Frenchman carrying a long ladder once said to me in Paris – “Gardez lat tete. Il y aurez une revolution!” (mind your head, we’re going to have a revolution).

Until next time, happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,


Read Full Post »


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.

Cartoon of Captain Boycott (source Ask About Ireland)

Cartoon of Captain Boycott
(source Ask About Ireland)

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.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,


Read Full Post »