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This week we present literary characters whose names have entered our language.

Svengali – a person who exercises a controlling influence on another, esp. for sinister purpose
[from Svengali, in George du Maurier’s novel Trilby (1894), who controls Trilby hypnotically]

Wordcrafter notes: This is the dictionary definition, but to me one who has excessive (not controlling) influence can be a 'Svengali', as in the second quote. Also, a Svengali does not use force; he influences his victim's judgement. For example, though a mugger with a handgun has a "controlling influence" on his victim, he is not a Svengali.
    The crucial factor in Hitler's Svengali act was his use of radio, a relatively new technology that he manipulaed with sinister effect. … With radio, one speaker could address an entire nation at once, casting a wide, seductive net, invoking in listeners a sense of tribal unity and singleness of vision.
    – Leonard Shlain, The Alphabet Versus the Goddess: The Conflict Between Word and Image

    Some of the most fascinating sections of the book deal with the Clintons's [sic] one-time political Svengali, Dick Morris …
    – Washington Monthly, May, 2005
 
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Faustian – of a "deal with the Devil": sacrificing moral values for power, knowledge, or wealth
Note: Most dictionaries just say "of or relating to Faust", which is spectacularly unhelpful, and then tell a bit about the the man. I take my definition from the only dictionary that gives specifics. It gives further meanings, but in my view you're highly unlikely to run into them.
    It's no secret that Aoun would like to emerge from Lebanon's political paralysis as president … . Many Lebanese believe that he made a Faustian bargain with Hezbollah in hopes of assuring his ascendance.
    – Los Angeles Times, Dec. 25, 2006
Etymology: The German Johann Faust, c1488-1541, a wandering astrologer and necromancer, was said to have sold his soul to the Devil. In the early 1800s Goethe made him the hero of his play Faust, which many consider many to be the greatest work of German literature.

Does the word Faustian come from the person, or from the dramatic character? The dictionaries say the person, but I disagree. The word came into English in 1876, long after the living Faust, when Faust-the-person was presumably far less well known than Faust-the-dramatic-character. Moreover, the earliest known usage seems to refer to a drama ("The sombre Faustian grandeur of this piece.") Hence, I conclude that today's word falls within our theme of eponyms from literary characters.
 
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Chicken Little – one who constantly warns that a calamity is imminent
[from the nursery tale character: when an acorn falls on a Chicken Little's head, she runs to tell all her friends that the sky is falling. Folks, I didn't say our eponyms would be from great literature!]
    He wanted the Principals Committee to decide whether al Qaeda was "a first order threat" or a more modest worry being overblown by "chicken little" alarmists.
    – The 9/11 Commission Report
 
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Today's word seems to be much more common in the British Commonwealth than in the US.

trilby – a felt hat with a narrow brim creased crown
[From the same novel as our recent word Svengali. Such a hat was worn in the stage version of that novel.]
    Walter was the boss, there was no doubt about it. … The battered trilby which he always wore in contrast with the others' caps gave him an extra air of authority.
    – James Herriot, All Creatures Great and Small

    Bond glanced up … A man in a rainproof and Trilby, middle-aged, nondescript, was inspecting the orderly hell through a pair of folding opera-glasses. Anyone examining him … was an object of suspicion to James Bond …
    – Ian Fleming, Octopussy and The Living Daylights
 
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Today's word is, like trilby, an eponymous hat from a late-1800s drama.

fedora – a soft felt hat with a curled brim and the crown creased lengthways
You may ask how a fedora differs from a trilby. The answer is, "I don't know."

Does this word come from title of a play (as the dictionaries say) or from the main play's character? You be the judge: etymology online explains, "from 'Fédora,' a popular play by Victorien Sardou (1831-1908) that opened 1882, in which the heroine, a Rus. princess named Fédora Romanoff, was originally performed by Sarah Bernhardt. During the play, Bernhardt, a notorious cross-dresser, wore a center-creased, soft brimmed hat. Women’s-rights activists adopted the fashion. Men began to wear them with city clothes after 1924, led by Britain's Prince Edward (Edward VIII), the most influential man of fashion in his day."
    … he appeared tragically ill at ease as he stood awkwardly with the brim of his black felt fedora held in his two brawny laborer's hands out in front of his wide lapels. Poverty and hard work had inflicted iniquitous damage on both.
    – Joseph Heller, Catch-22
 
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Today's familiar word has a unique distinction. It is, insofar as I know, the only eponym to come from a song.

grandfather clock – a weight-and-pendulum clock in a tall free-standing wooden case
[from the popular 1876 song My Grandfather's Clock by Henry Clay Work (1832-1884), American songwriter]
    My grand-father's clock was too large for the shelf,
    So it stood ninety years on the floor;
    It was taller by half than the old man himself,
    Though it weighed not a penny weight more.
    It was bought on the morn of the day that he was born,
    And was always his treasure and pride;
    But it stopp'd short never to go again
    When the old man died.
 
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This is the song I played at my first piano recital. I am surprised to find that it is the origination of the phrase "grandfathers clock". Cool!

*singing the song*


*******
"Happiness is not something ready made. It comes from your own actions.
~Dalai Lama
 
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The correct name is "Long-case clock".


Richard English
 
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When I was a little girl and we'd sing that song, I'd get so sad. Great eponym!
 
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Coincidence ..... The song was written and published in 1876 -- the year of my own grandfather's birth !!

Here's an unlikely story ... about the owner of a long-case clock that had ceased saying "tick-tock-tick-tock .,.." and was only saying "tick ... tick ... tick ..."

He took it to a clock repair man who happened to be a retired Nazi Interrogator. The repair man shined a very bright light into the face of the clock and said, "Vee haff vays for mekking you tock,"

The clock trembled and immediately started saying tick-tock-tick-tock ... "

. .. ... ..... ........

By the way, today is the first time in my life that I learned the correct name for such a clock Thanks, Richard.
 
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There is an interesting article about such clocks, together with some fine examples of English Long-case clocks, here - http://www.british-antiqueclocks.com/history/origins.htm


Richard English
 
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quote:
Originally posted by wordcrafter:
Today's familiar word has a unique distinction. It is, insofar as I know, the only eponym to come from a song.

grandfather clock – a weight-and-pendulum clock in a tall free-standing wooden case
[from the popular 1876 song My Grandfather's Clock by Henry Clay Work (1832-1884), American songwriter]

I never knew that! Wikipedia has an article on it.

Tinman
 
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quote:
Originally posted by Richard English:
The correct name is "Long-case clock".

A correct name is "Long-case clock". "Grandfather clock" is also a correct name. The OED Online says, "... grandfather's clock [suggested by a song which was popular about 1880], a furniture-dealer's name for the kind of weight-and-pendulum eight-day clock in a tall case, formerly in common use; also grandfather clock (now the usual name) ..."

Tinman
 
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waldo – a mechanical agent, such as a gripper arm, controlled by a human limb
[From Waldo Fathingwaite-Jones, title character in Robert Heinlein's science fiction novella Waldo]
    … each full-size dinosaur robot was controlled by up to 20 puppeteers, every one of whom was assigned to a part of a four-foot mechanism called a waldo
    New York Times, June 6, 1993
 
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quote:
... "Grandfather clock" is also a correct name ...

And a much more vivid and colorful one, evoking age, dignity, and a simple, old-fashioned reliability.
 
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Grandfather clock ... long-case clock
Also known as a tall case clock or as a floor clock, I believe. But as neveu says, there's no doubt which name is the most evocative.
 
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As ever it is the difference between casual use and correct use. In horological circles it would always be a long-case; non-experts would call it a grandfather.

Similarly people might talk about a "steam train" when they mean a steam locomotive.


Richard English
 
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In horological circles it would always be a long-case

I'll bet horologers feel a little frisson when they call it that.
 
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Is "grandfather clock" strictly an eponym? "Grandfather" is not really a name - although we do perhaps address our parents' fathers in that way it is really a descriptive noun. Young children might think that it is his name, but not adults.


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.
 
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Interesting question, arnie. The question of "What is an eponym" is one I've thought about in doing posts, and in that particular posts.

I doubt there's any definitive answer, but I'd explain my thoughts by considering two aspects: does the term refer to a single person, etc., or to a group? Does it use a proper name?

  • Eponyms typically refer to a specific character, by name, title or nickname. Thus boycott, Midas touch, sandwich, grog.
  • References to a group of people without any proper name are not eponyms (captain's chair; king's ransom, etc.)
  • Many terms refer to a group by proper name (examples: philistine, sybarite). Are these eponyms? It's a judgement call. Some lists of eponyms include them; I do not.
  • Lastly, a very few terms refer to a specific character, but identify him without any name or title. The only obvious one I can think of is good Samaritan. (A more subtle one may be frankenstein, which refers to the monster (who had no name, I believe) rather than to the doctor of that name.) I would consider these to be eponyms, but I can certainly understand the contrary view.

    On that last basis that I treated grandfather clock as an eponym. (Parenthetically, I don't view the term as coming from the specific grandfather in the song. Rather, to me it comes from the clock itself, which in the song becomes an animated character, not just a simple clock.)

    This message has been edited. Last edited by: wordcrafter,
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    quote:
    I'll bet horologers feel a little frisson when they call it that.

    Neveu, you absolutely made my day! Big Grin
     
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    quote:
    Originally posted by wordcrafter:
    Interesting question, arnie. The question of "What is an eponym"

    Good exposition, WC. As you say it's a judgement call, and probably of little importance so long as clarity of meaning is made. My preference is to restrict the term eponyms to phenomena that are directly attributable to a person's name. I am less keen on groups, with or without proper names. Thus I would not call the phrase Grandfather clock an eponym, but a Tomkin long case clock is eponymous.
     
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    Thus I would not call the phrase Grandfather clock an eponym, but a Tomkin long case clock is eponymous.

    I would tend to disagree. Thomas Tompion was one of the world's finest horologists but a Tompion clock is a clock made by Tompion, as a Bregeut watch is a watch made by Bregeut. It would only be an eponym if it were to be referred to as a "Tompion" or a "Bregeut" - and if it were known by most as such.

    Thus (in the UK anyway) a "biro" is a commonly used eponym for a ballpoint pen; a "hoover" is a commonly used eponym for a vacuum cleaner. Strangly, since Biro and Hoover both lived in the Americas and much of Biro's work was done with US assistance, I understand that neither eponym is used in the USA.

    There is an interesting article on a Tompion long case here = http://www.history.org/Foundation/journal/Summer04/clock.cfm


    Richard English
     
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    quote:
    Originally posted by wordcrafter:
    Today's familiar word has a unique distinction. It is, insofar as I know, the only eponym to come from a song.

    It's a nice story. Wikipedia summarises it:

    During the 19th century, two brothers named Jenkins worked as managers at the George Hotel in Piercebridge, County Durham, England. One of the brothers died and, according to the story told to Henry Clay Work in 1875, the clock (made by James Thompson) began to lose time. Repair attempts were made, but failed. When the other brother died at the age of 90, the clock stopped running altogether, and was never repaired in remembrance of the brothers.
    Work decided to write a song about the story of this clock, which he called My Grandfather's Clock. The song became popular, and it is from this song that the current usage derives.
     
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    quote:
    Originally posted by Richard English:
    [QUOTE] Thomas Tompion was one of the world's finest horologists

    Richard you are right, my mistake. I meant to say Tompion, not Tomkin. But people do speak of a Tompion, or a Rolls Royce, both being eponyms. The compound form e.g. Rolls Royce car, as an eponym, is I think debatable.
     
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    Adding to Pearce's Wikipedia quote, two posts above.
      A competing theory holds that the lyrics were written not by Work but instead by C. Russel Christian, who wrote the poem about his grandfather, James P. Christian.
    I did a spot of research, but am unable to find a solid choice between the two theories. Personally, though, I doubt the poem-later-set-to-music theory above. Note the refrain "It stopped ... short ... never to run again / When the old ... man ... died." It seems to me that this would not scan properly as poem, without the benefit of music to cue the meter.
     
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    quote:
    Richard you are right, my mistake. I meant to say Tompion, not Tomkin. But people do speak of a Tompion, or a Rolls Royce, both being eponyms. The compound form e.g. Rolls Royce car, as an eponym, is I think debatable.

    I knew who you meant and agree that people would talk about a Tompion or a Rolls-Royce - or a Ford or a Honda, or a Purdy - but this would be when they are referring to a particular item.

    "I own a Rolls-Royce; I have a Purdy; I ride a Honda"

    To be eponymous the name must become one that describes a class of item, not just an item.

    Thus, in England when people vacuum the carpets they "hoover" them; if they want to buy a ballpoint pen they ask for a "biro". Those brand names have become eponymous and are used to represent the class of item, not just an item they happen to be describing.

    A confusion with brand names occurs between UK and Australia. Both countries use the brand name "durex" as a generic term. However, in the UK, a "durex" is a condom (properly one made by the London Rubber Company). In Australia the name is used to refer generically to adhesive tape (much as sellotape is used in the UK and scotch tape in the USA). Be very careful to request the correct item since the one will not serve the purpose of the other ;-)


    Richard English
     
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