Ever Wonder Where Certain Words Come From?
Psychology and linguistics have long been intrigued with finding out how words came into being. Among the many speculations, scientists entertain ideas to how sign language might have morphed into spoken language; how grunts and other vocalizations gradually changed into speech--and on and on. So far, the question remains unanswered.
But when we lower our sights to individual words, we have much better luck. And the search can be fun and fascinating--as you will find if you look at a book by John Bemelmans Marciano titled Anonyponymous: The Forgotten People Behind Everyday Words. (Anonyponomy, by the way, is a person who is almost anonymous despite the eponymous use of his name in everyday language).
For example, let's consider the word "sandwich" which was created in honor of the fourth Earl of Sandwich who liked to snack—with a slab of salt beef stuffed between two pieces of toast.
And here are some others:
Samuel Augustus Maverick was a successful businessman who accepted a herd of cattle in exchange for a debt. Not caring for and not needing to care for the livestock, he allowed calves to wander about unbranded. The lack of a brand became a brand in itself: Whenever anybody found a stray calf with no markings, they said, “That there’s a maverick.”
Not unlike Halloween, Guy Fawkes Day is celebrated across the United Kingdom with fireworks and bonfires. This has been going on for more than 400 years. It marks the November day in 1605 when a man, named Guy Fawkes, was arrested for being part of a Roman Catholic conspiracy to assassinate King James I, his family, and both houses of Parliament. In the end; he was hanged.
On the "holiday," children parade effigies of Fawkes through the streets chanting, “What shall we do with him? Burn him!” Upon reaching the central bonfire, the kids toss “the guy” into the flames. Over time, a “guy” came to mean someone of grotesque appearance, which came to include everyone, at least everyone in America.
John Duns Scotus was a Scottish theologian who had considerable influence in the Middle Ages as a follower of St. Francis. Duns Scotus’ followers, known as Dunsmen (pronounced DUNCE-men), dominated theology until another group, the Thomists (after Thomas Aquinas), rose to power. These new philosophers ridiculed the Dunsmen as being were impervious to learning anything new or different. Then in the radical changes of the Renaissance, the Dunsmen were ridiculed ever further. The worst insult a would-be man of letters could receive was to be called a “dunce.”
Pantaleon was an unmarried physician and citizen of the pagan Roman empire who was a believer in Jesus Christ. He was said to be able to perform miraculous acts such as healing the blind. Pantaleon’s fellow doctors were predictably jealous and denounced him to the emperor. Whereupon Pantaleon proved the power of God by curing a man of paralysis. Having witnessed the trick, the emperor condemned Pantaleon to death for practicing black magic.
Martyrdom gave him a second life. Pantaleon became the patron saint of bachelors and physicians, and his name could be invoked to cure a variety of ailments. When the Black Death swept through Europe, St. Pantaleon’s stock went up dramatically in places like hard-hit Venice, where a spectacular church was dedicated to him. “San Pantalone” became so identified with Venice that his name was borrowed by the commedia dell’arte, the acting group.
Each actor of the troupe dressed in mask and costume. The costume signature of Pantalone was a pair of red leggings that reached the feet, a distinctively Venetian manner of covering the legs. Over the years and in various languages, the character’s name was borrowed to describe varying fashions of long trousers and related garments. By the mid-1800s, the Anglicized name Pantaloon had comfortably been shortened to “pants.”
In the 1930s, a couple of drunk Yale students munched down a pie and started playing catch with the leftover tin plate. The game took off, and soon the whole campus was eating pies and playing the new sport. The students’ pastry of choice was made by Mrs. Frisbie’s Pies of Bridgeport, Conn.
At the same time, on the other side of the country, Fred Morrison had created a disk designed specifically for flying. But no one was buying them. Nevertheless it was noticed by the Wham-O corporation which had created the unbelievably successful Hula Hoop. They purchased Morrison’s designs, which up till then had had unappealing names like Pipco Flyin-Saucer and Pluto Platter. They soon learned there was already a better name for a flying disk—namely, Frisbie. Wham-O decided to call its plastic version the same thing, but to trademark the name, it changed the spelling to Frisbee. The Frisbee wound up being Wham-O’s most popular and enduring product.
If you'd like to delve further into this fun-filled, rich topic, go to http://anonyponymous.com/