The Top Ten: Eponyms


John Rentoul
Friday 12 September 2014 20:43
General Ambrose Burnside (1824–81), the Union army leader who boasted 'burnsides'
General Ambrose Burnside (1824–81), the Union army leader who boasted 'burnsides'

Eponyms are words that derive from a person's name. This idea was suggested by Rich Greenhill, a word wizard extraordinaire. He started with 'milquetoast' (a fictional cartoon-strip character) and 'quisling', the name of the army officer who ruled Norway for the Nazis. Alan Robertson mentioned Stigler's Law: that no discovery is ever named after the person who actually discovered it.

1. Silhouette Named after Étienne de Silhouette (1709-1767), French author and politician, although no one knows why. Nominated by Rich Greenhill.

2. Sideburns General Ambrose Burnside (1824–81), the Union army leader who boasted "burnsides". From Adrian McMenamin.

3. Pander Pandare, a character in Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde, aka Pandarus in Shakespeare's version. Suggested by Stig Abell.

4. Quixotic Don Quixote, hero of Cervantes' satire. From James Ball.

5. Shrapnel General Henry Shrapnel (1761–1842), the British soldier who invented the shell. Nominated by Matt Prissick.

6. Trilby From the name of the heroine in George du Maurier's novel Trilby (1894), in the stage version of which such a hat was worn. With thanks to Allan Draycott.

7. Mesmerise Franz Mesmer (1734-1815), a German doctor who propounded animal magnetism, later called hypnotism. From Josh Spero.

8. Maverick Sam Maverick (1803-1870), the Texas politician and rancher who refused (or couldn't be bothered) to brand his cattle. Suggested by Rich Greenhill and Steve Smith.

9. Diesel Rudolf Diesel (1858-1913), French-born German engineer, inventor of the diesel engine. From David Head.

10. Bloomers Amelia Bloomer (1818-1894), American social reformer who advocated such garments. From Michael C.

Next week: One-word lines in films

Coming soon: Misleading definitions of words. Send your suggestions, and ideas for future Top 10s, to

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