This week we'll look at eponyms from Shakespeare. Unsurprisingly, many characters of so prominent an author have been used as eponyms. The surprise is how few of those eponyms have become well known. Often it is hard to tell if the name is being used as an eponym, or simply as a literary reference.
Shakespeare uses yesterday's word moon-calf three times, all in The Tempest. All refer to his character Caliban, is 'a salvage and deformed slave' (Dram. Personæ), who gives us our first Shakespearean eponym.
Caliban – a man of degraded bestial nature
There seems to be a sense of ‘ill-combined contradictory parts, as in our first two quotes.
– Atlanta Constitution, July 26, 1992
A tragic, ruined figure, Wenceslas emerges from the chronicles a kind of Caliban, half clownish, half vicious, a composite of half-truths and legends …
– Barbara W. Tuchman, A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century, speaking of Wenceslas IV of Bohemia (1361 – 1419)
Sometime early that evening Oppenheimer climbed the tower to perform a final ritual inspection. There before him crouched his handiwork. Its bandages had been removed and it was now hung with insulated wires that looped from junction boxes to the detonator plugs that studded its dark bulk, an exterior ugly as Caliban's. His duty was almost done.
– Richard Rhodes, The Making of the Atomic Bomb
Wouldn’t this be a useful word?
Dogberry – an ignorant, self-important official
[From the name of a foolish constable in Shakespeare's Much Ado about Nothing. Note: I would add that he is typically of the police force or the like. Congressmen are often ignorant and self-important, but you would not call them Dogberries.]
– John Sutherland: Introduction to Armadale (Penguin Classics) by Wilkie Collins
The overall effect … was to allow a horde of petty functionaries to decide without any legal guidelines on one of the highest matters of state: precisely who in this civil war was loyal or disloyal. … Stanton saw Turner’s role as one of scheduling trials by military commission rather that riding heard on the Dogberries unleashed across the land.
– Mark E. Neely, The Fate of Liberty: Abraham Lincoln and Civil Liberties
This reminds me of 'Barney', Don Knotts' deputy to the sheriff, on the old Andy Griffith Show-- a dogberry from Mayberry.
It's similar to a "jobsworth". He's a petty official who delights in sticking to the letter of the law. When asked to apply a little commonsense he'll (it's almost always a man) suck his teeth and reply "Ooh, can't do that. It's more than me job's worth!"
Build a man a fire and he's warm for a day. Set a man on fire and he's warm for the rest of his life.
A Capulet is the same thing as a Capellet, according to Webster's. And a Capellet is "A swelling, like a wen, on the point of the elbow (or the heel of the hock) of a horse, caused probably by bruises in lying down."
So did this veterinary condition take its name from Juliet's family?
Today, another useful word that no one ever seems to use. (I can't find any example later than the 19th century.)
benedict – a newly married man; esp. an apparently confirmed bachelor who marries. [From the character of that name in Shakespeare's Much Ado about Nothing.]
– Punch, Oct. 10, 1874 (letter)
Laura L. White, A Would-be Benedict, in The Overland Monthly, vol. VIII 1872:
Obadiah Fuller was courting the Widow Blain in earnest: he was unceasingly courting someone in earnest. The "sad satiety" of love had never come to him, because, ere he reached its fruit and flower, the untimely frost of a rejection by its over-sensitive object nipped his hopes, but the stolid insensibility which in nearly every case provoked the dismissal, also prevented and great degree of disappointment and suffering.
[QUOTE]Originally posted by wordcrafter:
benedict – a newly married man; esp. an apparently confirmed bachelor who marries. [From the character of that name in Shakespeare's Much Ado about Nothing[QUOTE]
What a lovely word.
Of course Shakespeare's usage in this context was probably original (always a dangerous assertion), but stemming from Latin: [I]bene dicere the words benedict and benedicite were used as early as the 14th century, variously expressing praise, blessing or astonishment (cf. Good gracious).
It is arguable what that has to do with the decision of a confirmed bachelor to marry.
Benedicta* tu in mulierebus
fructus ventris tu Jesu ...
et benedictus* fructus ventris tu Jesu ...
... fructus ventris tui, Jesus ...
—Ceci n'est pas un seing.
Et benedictus tu, zmjezd.
(( Did you ever find out why they gave that kid a Mexican name ?? ))
Et benedictus tu, zmjezd.
Blessed, I am not; blasted, perhaps.
I had a friend in high school named Jesus. When I saw him at the 30th year reunion, I was the only person calling him that. He had since moved on to Jesse.
Bene dicere means literally 'to speak well (of)'. Male dicere is 'to speak bad (of)'. Beatus is 'blessed'. Yields our beatified.
—Ceci n'est pas un seing.
Othello – trade-name for a certain board game (generically, reversi)
Players take turns placing pieces which are black on one side and white on the other, each placing with his color showing on top. With certain moves, a play may "flip" some of his opponent's pieces, converting them from the opponents color to his own. So with a flip, the fortunes of the game can change quickly.
Why was the game was named for Shakespeare's tragedy? There are at least three different views. I find the first the most convincing.
– Time, Nov. 22, 1976; cited by OED
referencing the conflict between the Moor Othello and Iago, who describes himself as "two faced"
or more controversially, to the marriage between Othello, who is black, and Desdemona, who is white, recalling the coloring of the game pieces
Portia – a female advocate or barrister.
[from Portia, the name of the heroine of Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice. And very rarely used, as far as I can tell.]
Today I sit the bench as a pinch-hitting Portia in judgment of the woman who held a burglar at gunpoint until the police could answer her call: Madame, you threatened the life of a defenseless, underprivileged thief.
Except that, unknown to many, her name is almost the exact pronunciation of the name of Germany's most famous sports car - the Porsche.
unknown to many
Unless you've seen the movie A Fish Called Wanda or read, discussed, or seen the play The Merchant of Venice. But common mispronunciations of proper names is both fun and funny: the Irish form of Catherine, i.e., Caitlin (which used to be pronounced similar to Cathleen) has given rise to new spellings, e.g., Catelyn, Katelin.
—Ceci n'est pas un seing.
Or watched Rumpole of the Bailey.
So far, all of our Shakespearian eponyms have been obscure words. There’s only one such eponym that is familiar enough to be used in everyday speech – as in the example below.
Romeo – a lover, a passionate admirer; a seducer, a habitual pursuer of women
[from the name of the hero of Shakespeare's tragedy Romeo and Juliet]
How odd. This definition, by OED, would encompass a female “lover” or “admirer” or “seducer”. But a Romeo is always a male, of course. Were the OED editors of the view that only a male can be a “seducer,” etc.?
Friends calling giving their advice
From the boy I love I should break away
'Cause heartaches he'll bring one day
I lost him once through friends advice
But it's not gonna happen twice.
How can Mary tell me what to do
When she lost her love so true?
And Flo, she don't know
'Cause the boy she loves is a Romeo?
– The Supremes, Back in My Arms Again
from Prospero, the name of the magician in Shakespeare's Tempest:
Prospero – a person or thing like Prospero, esp. in being capable of magic or of influencing others' behaviour or perceptions without their knowledge
– Ron Chernow, The House of Morgan: An American Banking Dynasty and the Rise of Modern Finance
– Brian W. Aldiss, British author, speaking of H. G. Wells:
The Prospero of all the brave new worlds of the mind, and the Shakespeare of science fiction.