Friday, 23 November 2007

A.W.A.D. - Eponyms - Words Coined After Someone

Eponyms -- AWAD's perennial favorites -- make their appearance once again.

If we featured nothing but eponyms every day it would be several years before we'd run out. There's a reason for their popularity: where else can you a find a whole story in just one word? And there's a reason for their abundance: it's often easiest to name something after its inventor.

This week's selection features words named after people -- famous and infamous, real and fictional, well-known and obscure.

pinchbeck
(PINCH-bek) noun
An alloy of zinc and copper, used as imitation gold in jewelry.
adjective
Counterfeit or spurious.

[After watchmaker Christopher Pinchbeck (1670-1732), who invented it. It's ironic that today his name is a synonym for something counterfeit but in his time his fame was worldwide, not only as the inventor of this curious alloy but also as a maker of musical clocks and orreries*. The composition of this gold-like alloy was a closely-guarded secret but it didn't prevent others from passing off articles as if made from this alloy... faking fake gold!]

bunbury
(BUN-buh-ree) noun
An imaginary person whose name is used as an excuse to some purpose, especially to visit a place
verb intr.
To use the name of a fictitious person as an excuse

[From Oscar Wilde's play The Importance of being Earnest where the character Algernon invents an imaginary person named Bunbury as an alibi to escape from relatives. He explains to his friend, "I have invented an invaluable permanent invalid called Bunbury, in order that I may be able to go down into the country whenever I choose. Bunbury is perfectly invaluable. If it wasn't for Bunbury's extraordinary bad health, for instance, I wouldn't be able to dine with you at Willis's to-night."]

ragamuffin
(RAG-uh-muf-in) noun
Someone, especially a child, in ragged, dirty clothes.

[After Ragamoffyn, a demon in William Langland's 14th century poem Piers Plowman.]

titian
(TISH-uhn) noun
A bright reddish or golden auburn color.

[After 16th century Italian painter Titian, from the frequent use of the color (especially for the hair) in his paintings.]

Darby and Joan
(DAHR-bee and joan) noun
A devoted old couple leading a quiet, uneventful life.

[After a couple named in a 18th century poem in The Gentleman's Magazine (London).]

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