Word of the week: bowdlerize

To bowdlerize is an example of eponym. We give this name to words derived from names of people, real or imaginary, e.g. macadam, named after its inventor, the Scottish engineer John Loudon MacAdam (1756-1836), or aphrodisiac, from Aphrodite, the goddess of love and beauty in Greek mythology. 

To bowdlerize, meaning 'to expurgate', comes from Thomas Bowdler (1754-1825), who published an expurgated edition of Shakespeare: The Family Shakespeare, from which all the words that could not be read aloud with propriety in a family were excluded.

Other examples of eponyms:

to boycott - to refuse to take part in sth or to buy from sb), after Charles Boycott (1832-1897), land agent for the Irish landowner the Earl of Erne, who was a victim of such a practice for refusing to accept a reduction of rents.

daltonism - colour blindness, esp. the inability to distinguish red and green, after the English scientist John Dalton (1766-1844), who himself suffered from this disability and was the first to give a detailed description of it.

hoover ® - a type of vacuum cleaner, after the American William Henry Hoover (1849-1932) who, curiously enough, was not its inventor, but the owner of the company that registered and produced it after buying the rights from  a J. Murray Spangler, a caretaker in an Ohio department store, who had invented it.

sandwich - two or more slices of usually buttered bread with a filling of ham, cheese, etc. between them, after John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich (1718-1792), a compulsive gambler who is said to have eaten food in this form rather than leave the gaming-table.

spoonerism - transposition of the initial consonants of two words: “this place is occupied, I´ll sew you to another sheet”, instead of “I´ll show you to another seat”, after W.A. Spooner (1844-1930), an English clergyman renowned for slips of this kind.

to tantalize - to torment sb with the sight of sth greatly desired but inaccessible, after Tantalus, a mythical king of Phrygia, condemned to stand in Tartarus up to his chin in water which receded as he stooped to drink.

Recommended book: The Wordsworth Dictionary of Eponyms, Martin H. Manser, Wordsworth Editions.

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