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7 Popular Words That Were Named After People

Cities, squares, streets, buildings and universities are among the things that are often named after people. Officially known as eponyms, these terms usually contain names of famous people somehow associated with the particular objects. While in most eponyms, the person after whom the thing was named is obvious and well known, there is a surprisingly high number of words you might have never known were actually also named after people.

Sandwich  

Around 1762, the English nobleman John Montagu was sitting at the gambling table when he began to feel a bit peckish. But he didn’t want to leave the table, or gamble with greasy fingers. So, he had a servant place some meat between two pieces of bread. Montagu’s title? The Earl of Sandwich.

Boycott 

Captain Charles C. Boycott was NOT some revolutionary union leader or political rights activist. He was the object of protests, a landlord known for demanding unfair rents and evicting those who couldn’t pay. People decided to shun both Boycott and anyone who worked for him.

Decibel 

Believe it or not, it is named after a guy you’ve heard of.  The engineers at Bell Telephone Laboratory named a level of sound “bel” after their company’s founder, Alexander Graham Bell.  Today, the word coined to mean ‘one-tenth’ (deci-) of a bel is the most commonly-used measurement of sound.

Nicotine 

1500s French diplomat Jean Nicot was an ambassador to Portugal. He brought tobacco plant seeds back to Paris, where snuff became all the rage. More than 200 years later, tobacco was given its scientific name: Nicotiana.

Shrapnel 

Henry Shrapnel dedicated nearly two decades of his life to the development of a better way to blow people up.  What did he come up with?  The “shrapnel shell”.

Silhouette 

Soon after 18th century French minister of finance Étienne de Silhouette developed a reputation as a cheapskate, people started referring to being frugal or penny-pinching as “a la Silhouette” (“like Silhouette does”).  That included the much more “economical” form of portraiture.

 Dunce (and Dunce Cap) 

John Duns Scotus was one of the most intelligent thinkers of his generation. He was a theologian who made many bold claims on a wide range of subjects. The problem? In the 16th century, about two and a half centuries after his death, his ideas began falling out of favor and those who still believed them were derided as “Dunsmen” or “Duns.” The hat? Scotus was known to wear a pointy hat, and so did many of his followers.

 
 

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