Eponyms N-Z

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This list is a continuation of the list at Eponyms A-M.


  • Nicotine - chemical formula C10H14N2 - the toxic alkaloid found in tobacco and some other plants, is so called after Jean Nicot (1530-1600), a French diplomat who introduced tobacco into France: from 1559 to 1561 Nicot was his country’s ambassador to Portugal, and when he returned to France, he brought back a number of tobacco plants with him and introduced snuff tobacco into the French court.
  • The verb ‘to pander', followed by ‘to’, means ‘to gratify someone’s weaknesses or (reprehensible) desires’ (as in ‘Most popular newspapers pander to their readers’ prejudices’), and, followed by ‘for’, means ‘to act as a go-between in a sexual intrigue, or to seek to find sexual partners for (someone else)’. Pander, as a noun, and panderer both mean ‘a person who panders (in either sense)’. Pander and panderer derive from Pandarus, a Trojan aristocrat who is represented in Homer’s Iliad as a courageous warrior but in the literature of the Middle Ages (e.g., as Pandare in Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde) as a witty, cynical, and licentious individual who promotes the affair between Troilus and Cressida. It is as such a figure that Pandarus appears in Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida.
  • To pasteurise (or pasteurize) a liquid such as milk is to make it safe to drink by heating it and thereby destroying any harmful microorganisms it may contain. The process of pasteurisation (or pasteurization) is named after its inventor, Louis Pasteur (1822-1895), a French chemist and bacteriologist, who discovered that the fermentation of milk and alcohol is caused by certain microorganisms they contain.
  • A pavlova - pronounced with the stress on the second syllable, IPA: / pæv 'ləʊ və/ – is a dessert consisting of a meringue case filled with whipped cream and fruit (in the UK often strawberries). The dish is named after the Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova (1885-1931), in whose honour it was created in either Australia or New Zealand – the issue is disputed - during one of her tours of these countries in the 1920s.
  • A policeman is sometimes, in British and Irish slang, referred to as a peeler - after Robert Peel (1788-1850), who in 1828 founded the Metropolitan Police Force. See also Bobby.
  • A philippic is an impassioned speech of denunciation or bitter verbal attack. The word 'Philippics', in the plural and with an initial capital, was originally applied to a series of speeches delivered by the Athenian orator Demosthenes (384-322 BCE) in which he attacked Philip II of Macedon (382-336 BCE) and urged his fellow-Athenians to resist the growing power of Macedon. The word was also applied, again with an initial capital, to two speeches of the Roman orator Cicero (106-43 BCE) in which, in imitation of Demosthenes' denunciation of Philip of Macedon, he denounced the ambitions of Mark Antony (82-30 BCE) to secure supreme power for himself after the death of Julius Caesar in 44 BCE. (See further Philip II of Macedon.)
  • Pinchbeck is an alloy of copper and zinc: it looks like gold and is used, e.g. in watchmaking, as an imitation gold. The word pinchbeck, as a noun, may also denote anything that is a cheap imitation, while as an adjective it means either ‘made of pinchbeck’ or ‘cheap, sham’. Pinchbeck, the material, is named after its inventor Christopher Pinchbeck (?1670-1732), a London watchmaker.
  • A poinsettia (IPA: / pɔɪn 'sɛt ɪə/) is a shrub of the genus Euphorbia: it has distinctive red and green foliage and is indigenous to Mexico, where it is known as Flor de Nochebuena (Christmas Eve Flower). Its English name comes from Joel Roberts Poinsett (1779-1851), an American politician and US Minister to Mexico (1825-1830), who introduced the plant into the United States.
  • The pompadour, a hairstyle in which the hair is swept up high over the forehead, is named after Madame de Pompadour (Jeanne Antoinette Poisson, Marquise de Pompadour (1721-1764), who popularised the style. (Madame de Pompadour was a mistress of Louis XV of France (1710-1774, reigned 1717-1774), with whom she had considerable influence.)
  • A quisling is a person who assists an occupying enemy force, i.e., a collaborator or traitor. The word comes from Major Vidkun Quisling (1887-1945), a Norwegian who collaborated with the Nazis and ruled Norway during the Second World War on behalf of the German forces which had occupied his country.
  • A raglan is a type of coat without shoulder seams. The name comes from the title of the 1st Baron Raglan (1788-1855), whose right arm had been amputated at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. As an adjective, raglan is applied to the type of sleeve that reaches to the collar, leaving diagonal seams from neck to armpit.
  • Sadism - the adjective is sadistic - is the infliction of pain or suffering on another person (or other persons) for the sake of one’s own pleasure or sexual gratification. The practice is so called after Donatien Alphonse François, Marquis de Sade (1740-1814), a French nobleman, revolutionary politician, and writer, notorious both for his own sadistic sexual practices and for the many descriptions of sexual violence contained in his works.
  • Salmonella - pronounced with the stress on the penultimate syllable, 'sal-mon-ELL-a', IPA: /sæl mɒ (or ɛ)n ˈɛl ə/ - is the name of a genus of bacteria. Members of the genus include Salmonella typhosa, the cause of typhoid fever, and many other species which cause food poisoning. The name comes from Daniel Elmer Salmon (1850-1914), an American veterinary pathologist who worked in the Veterinary Division of the United States Department of Agriculture and was head of the laboratory in which this type of bacterium was first discovered in 1885 by his research assistant Theobald Smith (1859-1934).
  • A sandwich is a slice of meat, cheese, or other filling, placed between two slices of bread. The word comes from the name of the eighteenth-century nobleman, John Montague, fourth Earl of Sandwich (1718-1792), whose reluctance to leave the gaming table for a more conventional meal is said to have led to his invention of the sandwich - although OED gives his snack as "some slices of cold beef placed between slices of toast", during 24 hours of gambling.
  • A saxophone – often abbreviated to sax - is a musical instrument: it is a member of the wind family, usually made of brass, with keys, and a single-reed mouthpiece. It is named after its inventor, Adolphe Sax (1814-1894), a Belgian musical-instrument maker.
  • The noun shrapnel refers collectively to the small fragments of metal which may be contained in a shell or bomb and are thrown out when it explodes. The word, which was originally used to refer to both the shell or bomb itself and its contents of metal fragments, comes from the inventor of the prototype, Henry Shrapnel (1761-1842), who in 1784 as a lieutenant in the Royal Artillery designed a hollow cannon ball which was filled with lead shot and exploded in mid-air.
  • Sideburns are the thick whiskers a man may grow either side of his face in front of the ears: they are usually linked by a moustache while the chin is clean-shaven. The word sideburns was formed by transposing the two syllables of burnsides, a word first used in reference to the distinctive facial hair of Ambrose Everett Burnside (1824-1881), a soldier, industrialist, and politician, who was a general with the Union Army in the American Civil War.
  • A silhouette – the word is pronounced with the ‘h’ silent and the stress on the final syllable, IPA: /,sɪ luː 'ɛt/ - is the dark shape of a person, animal, or object viewed against a lighter background. The word is applied, more particularly, to the portrait of an individual in profile cut out of black paper and mounted on a pale (usually white) background. The word comes from the name of a French politician and government minister, Ètienne de Silhouette (1709-1767). In 1759, during the Seven Years War (1756-1763), de Silhouette was obliged by a financial crisis to raise levels of taxation, particularly on the wealthy, who were in consequence forced to find less expensive substitutes for certain items of expenditure. These cheaper substitutes were referred to, no doubt ironically, as silhouettes, and so the word came to be applied to profile portraits cut out of black paper, which were popular at the time and seen as less expensive substitutes for painted portraits. However, the word ‘silhouette’ did not become established in English until the early decades of the nineteenth century: before that a silhouette was known as a profile or a shade.
  • The Sten or Sten gun is a type of submachine gun designed in 1940 and widely used by British and Commonwealth forces in World War II. The word 'Sten' is an acronym formed from the initial letters of the names of the gun's designers, (Reginald V.) Shepherd and (Harold) Turpin, and the place name Enfield (now one of the outer boroughs of Greater London), where the gun was assembled.
  • A Stetson (usually spelt with an initial capital) is a type of hat with a high crown and wide brim, worn particularly by cowboys in the American Wild West. It is named after its inventor John B. Stetson (1830-1906), who worked as a hat-maker in Philadelphia.
  • The adjective tawdry, meaning ‘cheap, showy, and of poor quality’, is a corruption of St. Audrey, the name by which Etheldreda (or ᴁthelthryth) (636-679 CE), the daughter of an East Anglian king, was known after her death. Etheldreda, famed for the sanctity of her life, founded an abbey in the city of Ely in Cambridgeshire, and after her death was adopted , as St. Audrey, as the patron saint of the city. The fair held in the city was known as St Audrey’s Fair, and among the cheap, poorly made articles on sale at the fair were ribbons or strips of silk lace which were wound round the throat in memory of the saint, who is said to have died of a tumour in her neck. These ribbons were originally known as St. Audrey’s lace: bur over time the expression was corrupted, by metanalysis, to ‘tawdry lace’ and abbreviated to ‘tawdry’, the use of which was then generalised to apply to any article which is cheap and showy, but of poor quality.
  • The word 'thespian' is used as an adjective to mean 'relating to drama or the theatre', and as a noun is used, usually jocularly, to mean 'actor or actress'. The word comes from the Greek poet Thespis (6th century BCE), who is regarded as the founder of tragic drama and won a prize for tragedy at Athens in 534 BCE. (He was also the first person to appear in a Greek tragedy as an actor separate from the chorus, delivering a prologue and a number of set speeches. See further Greek tragedy and protagonist.) With an initial capital, the adjective 'Thespian' means 'of or relating to Thespis'.
  • Titian - spelt with or without an initial capital and pronounced IPA: /'tɪ ʃən / - is used as an adjective to mean ‘reddish-gold’ and applied primarily to hair of that colour: Titian is the anglicised form of the name of the Venetian painter Tiziano Vercellio (c1490-1576), in whose works hair is often painted reddish gold.
  • A toby or toby jug is a beer jug or beer mug in the form of a figure, usually a jovial male figure wearing 18th century dress and holding a jug in one hand and a pipe in the other. Toby is an abbreviated form of the first name Tobias, and the toby jug is thought to be named after either Sir Toby Belch, a character in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, or Toby Philpot, a (possibly fictional) 18th century soldier notorious for his heavy drinking.
  • A trilby is a type of hat: it has a low, indented crown and narrow brim, and is usually made of felt. Its name derives from Trilby O’Farrell, the heroine of Trilby (1894), a novel by George du Maurier (1834-1896). In the stage version of the novel the actress who played Trilby wore a hat with an indented crown and narrow brim, and the popularity of the novel and its stage adaptation led to this becoming a widely-worn type of headgear for men. (Cf. fedora above.)
  • Venn diagrams, diagrammatical -representations of mathematical, or logical, sets in the form of overlapping circles, are called after their inventor, John Venn (1834-1923), who was born in Hull. He became, like his father Henry Venn (1796-1873), grandfather John Venn (1759-1813) and great-grandfather Henry Venn, (1725-1797), a clergyman, all evangelicals: the grandfather was a founding member of the Claphamites and a friend and collaborator of Wilberforce's in the Abolition [of Slavery] movement. The Venn Building, seat of the administration of the University of Hull, is named after John Venn.
  • A Very light is a coloured flare used for signalling at night, especially at sea, so called after their inventor, Lieutenant Edward Wilson Very (1852-1910), who was an ordinance officer in the United States navy. See also Very (proper noun).
  • A victoria may be either a small, horse-drawn carriage, with four wheels, a folding hood, seats for two passengers, and a seat at the front for the driver or a variety of plum - also referred to as a victoria plum - sweet in taste and red and yellow in colour. Both the carriage and the plum take their name from Queen Victoria (1819-1901, reigned 1837-1901).
  • Wellingtons (more formally Wellington boots; less formally wellies; outside the UK sometimes called 'rubber boots', 'gumboots' and 'topboots') are nowadays waterproof boots, made of rubber or a synthetic equivalent, reaching just below the knee. Originally they were a development of the Hessian boot, made in leather, and cut to give some protection to cavalrymen by having a higher protrusion above the front of the knee. They were designed to a specification by the first Duke of Wellington (1769-1852), the victorious general at the Battle of Waterloo, and later Prime Minister. In the nineteenth century, his name was also applied to other things - Wellington apples. chests of drawers, coats, hats and trousers - but is now only seen in the tree wellingtonia, the everyday British name for the giant sequoia or redwood, Sequoiadendron giganteum, and beef Wellington, a dish of beef wrapped in pastry which may not be named directly after the Duke, but after the city of Wellington in New Zealand - which was named after him.

Many scientific terms come from the names of great scientists - in particular, the names of many scientific units of measurement, such as the volt, the SI unit of electric potential (from the Italian physicist Count Alessandro Volta (1745-1827)); the ampere, a unit of electric current (from A. M. Ampère, French physicist (1775-1836)); the coulomb, a unit of electrical quantity (from the French physicist, C. A. de Coulomb (1736-1806)) - see also Columba - Columbia - Colombo - Columbus); the watt, a unit of power (from the pioneer of steam engineering, James Watt (1736-1819)) - see also What - wat - watt - wot; the newton, a unit of force (from the name of Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1727)); the ohm, the SI unit of electrical resistance (from the German physicist Georg Simon Ohm (1787-1854)); the kelvin, the SI unit of thermodynamic temperature (from the Scottish mathematician and physicist William Thomson (Lord) Kelvin (1824-1907)); the becquerel, the SI unit of radioactivity (from the French physicist Antoine Henri Becquerel (1852-1908)) - which supplanted the curie, named in honour of Marie Curie (1867-1934), Polish-born French physicist); and the joule, the SI unit of work or energy (from the English physicist James Prescott Joule (1818-1889)).

The names of a number of the chemical elements, more particularly those which do not occur naturally but have been synthesised in the laboratory, also derive from the names of persons, e.g., einsteinium (symbol: Es; atomic number: 99) from the physicist Albert Einstein (1879-1955), rutherfordium (symbol: Rf; atomic number: 104) from the British chemist and physicist Ernest Rutherford (1871-1937); and copernicium (symbol: Cn; atomic number: 112) from the Polish astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus (1473-1543). (For more examples see Chemical elements - Etymologies.)