What has an estate manager in Ireland and an American who refused to brand his calves, in common with a French infantry inspector under Louis XIV, an ardent follower of Napoleon, a 19th century English social reformer and an inept First Lord of the Admiralty?
Answer: their names have all become common words in the English language.
Charles Cunningham Boycott was a retired captain in the British army and became an agent for the Earl of Erne’s estates in County Mayo. Following one of Ireland’s disastrous harvests, the Land League, formed to combat unfair rural rents and evictions, called for a twenty-five per cent rent reduction. That was in 1880. The League, which advocated non-violent action, urged everyone to refuse to have anything to do with those who turned down the demand. And Boycott was the first to be targeted.
Samuel A. Maverick was a US pioneer whose insistence on going his own way and refusal to brand his cattle put his surname into everyday speech.
Jean Martinet became known by drilling Louis XIV’s infantry into such an efficient force that his name has been associated with strict discipline ever since. And later, but still in France, Nicholas Chauvin’s blind patriotism and fanatical admiration of Napoleon gave us “chauvinist” and “chauvinism”.
Then there was Samuel Plimsoll, who came from Bristol in England and was a Member of Parliament from 1868 to 1880. He was instrumental in getting legislation passed that provided for compulsory inspection of ships and for a line to be painted on their hulls to show they were not overloaded.
Finally, John Montagu was such a disaster at the Admiralty that he was blamed for the shortcomings of the British navy at the time of the American Revolution. Montagu? No, we don't talk about ‘montagus’, but he was also Earl of Sandwich and an inveterate gambler. So much so that he had food put between two slices of bread so that he could eat it without having to leave the gaming table. The Sandwich Islands were named after him as well.
Of course, these people are by no means alone in having their names enter the language. Among the many others are Etienne de Silhouette, a French finance minister given to making paper cut-outs, John Batterson Stetson, an American hat maker, and Henry Shrapnel, a British army officer who filled shells with musket balls to make them more lethal. William Lynch lived in Virginia, but there’s no need to mention what he got up to. The Earl of Cardigan, another military man, led the ill-fated Charge of the Light Brigade in the Crimean War but lent his name to a much more peaceful garment. And while on that subject, mention must be made of Wellington’s boots and Charles Macintosh, a chemist who invented waterproof fabrics, while Amelia Bloomer, was a nineteenth century American campaigner for women’s rights — and more comfortable clothing.
A full list would be very long indeed. But all those people lived in the past. What about the present? Which of our contemporaries are likely to be part of the language many years from now? It’s an excellent field for speculation. Any suggestions?