16 English Words You Didn’t Know Were Named After People!

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You probably knew that a lot of English words were named after places, but you probably know that there are also a lot of words that were named after people’s names. Like, for example, “decibel.” Here are 16 of those words that’ll probably surprise you!

1. Boycott

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Named after Captain Charles Boycott, a former British soldier who served as the estate agent for an absentee landlord, the Earl of Erne, in County Mayo, Ireland. During the Irish “Land War,” when Boycott refused his tenants’ demands for a 25% reduction in rates and began evicting them, politician Charles Parnell and the Irish Land League began to ostracize him and his family, depriving them of service in stores, mail delivery, and other necessities.

2. Decibel

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Named after Alexander Graham Bell — that is, a decibel is one-tenth of a bel, the uncommonly-used unit of measurement named after the inventor of the telephone.

3. Chauvinism

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“Militant devotion to and glorification of one’s country; fanatical patriotism. 2. Prejudiced belief in the superiority of one’s own gender, group, or kind.” Named after the legendary French soldier Nicolas Chauvin, who served in Napoleon's army and is credited with stupendously patriotic acts, including getting himself wounded 17 times. Supposedly, Napoleon himself presented the soldier with a Sabre of Honor.

4. Casanova

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One definition is “a man gallantly attentive to women.” Others are “a promiscuous man,” or “a philanderer.” Named after Giacomo Jacopo Girolamo Casanova de Seingalt (1725-98), an Italian adventurer who wrote a memoir in which he bragged about his “conquests.”

5. Saxophone

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Named after the Belgian instrument designer and musician Adolphe Sax, who invented the instrument in 1846.

6. Fuschia

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“A dark purplish-red color.” Named after Leonhart Fuchs (1501-1566), the German scientist frequently cited as one of the founding fathers of botany. No stories of German scientists wearing pink here — it was the plant that was named for him. The word wasn’t used to describe color until 1892.

7. Sadism

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“Love of cruelty.” From Count Donatien A.F. de Sade (1740-1815), a.k.a. the Marquis de Sade. He wrote novels that, according to the Wikipedia article, “explored such controversial subjects as rape, bestiality, and necrophilia. He was a proponent of extreme freedom (or at least licentiousness), unrestrained by morality, religion or law, with the pursuit of personal pleasure being the highest principle.”

8. Nicotine

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Nicotine is named after Jean Nicot, a 16th-century Ambassador to Portugal who took tobacco leaves imported from America to Catherine de Medici as a cure for her migraines.

9. Shrapnel

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According to Britannica.com: "Shrapnel is a type of antipersonnel projectile named after its inventor, Major-General Henry Shrapnel, an English artillery officer. Shrapnel projectiles contained small shot or spherical bullets, usually of lead, along with an explosive charge to scatter the shot as well as fragments of the shell casing. Henry Shrapnel invented his shrapnel shell for cannons in 1784, which was later adopted by the British Army in 1803 for cannons and rifles. Shrapnel was born in 1761 and died in 1842."

10. Lynch

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The origins of the word "lynch" are obscure, but it likely originated during the American Revolution. The verb comes from the phrase "Lynch Law," a term for a punishment without trial. Two Americans during this era are generally credited with the phrase: Charles Lynch and William Lynch, who both lived in Virginia in the 1780s. Charles Lynch has the better claim, as he was known to have used the term in 1782, while William Lynch isn't known to have used the term until much later.

11. Masochism

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“The deriving of sexual gratification, or the tendency to derive sexual gratification, from being physically or emotionally abused.” Named after Leopold von Sacher-Masoch (1836-1895), the Austrian author of Venus in Furs, which has quite a bit of the stuff in there.

12. Silhouette

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Named after Étienne de Silhouette (1709-1767), a French finance minister, who imposed strict economic restrictions on the rich during the Seven Years War. His name came to refer to anything done inexpensively, and particularly to the black outline portraits, the very cheapest way to capture your likeness.

13. Galvanism

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The effect was named after the scientist Luigi Galvani, who became one of the most brilliant scientists in the 18th century with his research and experiments of his theory on animal electricity.

14. Begonia

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“Any of various tropical or subtropical plants of the genus Begonia, widely cultivated as ornamentals for their usually asymmetrical, brightly colored leaves.” Named after Michel Bégon (1638-1710), former governor of the French colony of Haiti and patron of botany.

15. Mausoleum

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The word derives from the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus (near modern-day Bodrum in Turkey), the grave of King Mausolus, the Persian satrap of Caria, whose large tomb was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.

16. Sandwich

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Named after John Montagu, the 4th Earl of Sandwich is credited with inventing the popular lunch item. As the story goes, the Earl was so busy at the card table that he didn’t have time to eat and would ask his servants to bring him his meat and cheese stuck between two pieces of bread. When asked what they wanted, his friends would say, “the same as Sandwich!” And thus the sandwich was named. 

Sources: 1 2 3

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