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Anonyponymous: The Forgotten People Behind Everyday Words

Anonyponymous: The Forgotten People Behind Everyday Words

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Anonyponymous: The Forgotten People Behind Everyday Words

3/5 (60 avaliações)
152 página
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Lançado em:
Nov 3, 2009


Eponymous, adj. Giving one's name to a person, place, or thing.
Anonymous, adj. Anonymous.
Anonyponymous, adj. Anonymous and eponymous.
The Earl of Sandwich, fond of salted beef and paired slices of toast, found a novel way to eat them all together. Etienne de Silhouette, a former French finance minister, was so notoriously cheap that his name became a byword for chintzy practices-such as substituting a darkened outline for a proper painted portrait. Both bequeathed their names to the language, but neither man is remembered.
In this clever and funny book, John Bemelmans Marciano illuminates the lives of these anonyponymous persons. A kind of encyclopedia of linguistic biographies, the book is arranged alphabetically, giving the stories of everyone from Abu "algorithm" Al-Khwarizmi to Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin. Along with them you'll find the likes of Harry Shrapnel, Joseph-Ignace Guillotine, and many other people whose vernacular legacies have long outlived their memory.
Accented by amusing line portraits and short etymological essays on subjects like "superhero eponyms," Anonyponymous is both a compendium of trivia and a window into the fascinating world of etymology. Carefully curated and unfailingly witty, this book is both a fantastic gift for language lovers and a true pleasure to read.
Lançado em:
Nov 3, 2009

Sobre o autor

John lives in Brooklyn, where he shares an art studio with Sergo Ruzzier, Brian Floca, and Sophie Blackall.   Sophie Blackall is also a New York Times best-selling illustrator. She is originally from Australia and has illustrated over 25 books for children. Her books Include the Ivy and Bean series, as well as BIG RED LOLLIPOP, a New York Times Best Illustrated Book of the Year. Sophie also lives in Brooklyn, where she also shares an art studio with Sergio Ruzzier and Brian Floca. She sits close enough to John Bemelmans Marciano to throw her eraser at him, but she hardly ever does.

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Anonyponymous - John Bemelmans Marciano




John Bemelmans Marciano

Copyright © 2009 by John Bemelmans Marciano

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission from the publisher except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews. For information address Bloomsbury USA, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10010.

Published by Bloomsbury USA, New York

All papers used by Bloomsbury USA are natural, recyclable products made from wood grown in well-managed forests. The manufacturing processes conform to the environmental regulations of the country of origin.


ISBN 978-1-59691-653-1

First U.S. Edition 2009

1 3 5 7 9 10 8 6 4 2

Interior design by Sara E. Stemen

Printed in the United States of America by Quebecor World Fairfield

For my father










The smiling gent you see on the front cover is John Montagu, the fourth Earl of Sandwich. If he’s grinning it might be because he’s famous, saved from oblivion by the way he liked to snack, with a slab of salt beef stuffed between two pieces of toast. Or maybe it’s because he’s just won big. The earl was such a degenerate gambler that he once stayed at the wagering tables twenty-four hours straight, which is why he invented the sandwich in the first place—so he wouldn’t have to get up.

The Earl of Sandwich is famous for being the man behind a word that most people never thought was named after anyone, a man both anonymous and eponymous or, to coin a term, anonyponymous.

As a word, eponymous is a bit anonymous itself. Its moment in the sun came with the release of REM’s album Eponymous, a subtle dig at musicians who name records after themselves, such as Peter Gabriel, whose first four albums are all entitled Peter Gabriel. In short, an eponym is anything that’s ever been named after anybody. The title of an autobiography, the name of a legal firm, Mercedes-Benz, Washington State—anything.

But eponymy doesn’t necessarily involve the conscious act of naming. An eponym can also be a word that explodes into the language because of who a person is or what he or she did, often to that person’s dismay. For how this happens, here’s a firsthand account by Dr. Frasier Crane, as told to Sam Malone in an episode of Cheers:

Frasier, explaining being left at the altar: The story of my humiliation spread like wildfire through the university, and then to the entire Italian countryside. Everyone knew about it, everyone knew about my shame.

Sam: Naw—you must have been imagining that.

Frasier: Oh, was I? Do you know that in soccer, when a player kicks at the ball, misses, and falls down, it’s now called a Frasier?

Sam: That could be a coincidence.

Frasier: If he’s knocked cold, it’s called a Frasier Crane.

Names often get used in this type of descriptive shorthand, like with, That kid’s a real Einstein, or, He pulled a Bernie Madoff. But a name only crosses into true word-hood once it is no longer used as a reference. When we speak of hectoring wives and philandering husbands, it is without a picture of valiant Hector or lover-boy Philander popping into our minds, the way a bespectacled Viennese man with a pipe does when we say Freudian slip. To be considered anonyponymous, a word must pass the Viennese pipe test.

So what are the other criteria? First, that the word be an eponym, the determining of which can present more of a challenge than you might think. Like most New Yorkers, I long believed the Outerbridge Crossing got its name from being the bridge farthest from downtown, and was shocked to learn that it instead honored Eugenius Harvey Outerbridge. Outerbridge is an example of the perfectly well-suited name, or aptronym, and whether a person is eponym or aptronym can be a chicken-or-the-egg proposition. Sometimes a famous name mirrors an existing term and reinforces it, as might have happened with Philadelphia whiskey maker E. G. Booz. There also lurks the possibility of nominative determinism, when someone’s name influences what they become—perhaps what drove Learned Hand to become one of the most influential justices in U.S. history.

The other half of the equation—the anonymous part—cannot be decided absolutely, as everyone’s know ledge is different. Most readers will know some of the characters in the following pages; the hope is that all the figures will be a surprise for the majority of readers. My editor thought Guy Fawkes had become too familiar due to the V for Vendetta mask, but I had never seen the movie. I since have, but not everyone has made the same mistake. Age is a big dividing line, and what is an eponym to one generation will be an anonyponym for the next. On the brink is a word like hoover, gaining traction as a verb meaning to suck something up. Its vibrant onomatopoeic quality almost assures its continued use among those ignorant of its origins, but I can never get out of my mind that it’s the name of a vacuum manufacturer, so it failed the Viennese pipe test.

Not everyone who qualifies under the rules made it into the book, of course. In general, I preferred naturally occurring, Frasier Crane–type eponyms, so mythological figures and fictional characters were preferred to inventors and scientists: hence the absence of such delightful names as Henry J. Heimlich (maneuver), Robert Wilhelm Bunsen (burner), and Fernand Lamaze (class). Finally, there were those people who didn’t qualify but I included anyway, such as the Marquis de Sade (because how could I leave out the Marquis de Sade?).

One person I didn’t feel comfortable bending the rules for was our friend the Earl of Sandwich, who has become famous for his very obscurity. I do, however, want to propose the earl as patron saint of the anonyponymous. His example shows that there is hope for the forgotten figures populating the following pages, that perhaps their lives can also be pulled out of the shadows of history for the wider world to recognize. It’s fair to ask, however, why should they be?

All words are abstractions. But words also have histories, and by unwinding them, we gain access to the hidden richness of our language. The absolute origins of words are for the most part unknowable; what makes eponyms extraordinary is that we can point to the moment of their birth and to the lives of the people from whom they sprang.

But why anonyponyms? Blame Etienne de Silhouette. When I looked up the etymology of the word silhouette and saw his name, I thought a virus had somehow infected my copy of the OED. It seemed like a prank, and indeed, Monsieur Silhouette and many of the other folks herein would see their peculiar fame as exactly that. In the anonyponymous, biographical history and the dictionary intersect in the realm of the ridiculous—and also of the remarkable, the delightful, and the fascinating.

I hope you enjoy these words and the people behind them as much as I have.

al·go·rithm n. A set of rules for solving a problem.

No, the first anonyponymous person in the book is not Al Gore.

When a word begins with al-, there’s a good chance it comes from Arabic. This is true with alchemy, almanac, alcove, alcohol (ironically), and algorithm, named for Muhammad ibn Musa al-Khwarizmi, or, as his Latin translators called him, Algorismus.

In the early ninth century Baghdad was fast becoming the world’s most important center of trade and learning, and while engaged at its illustrious House of Wisdom, al-Khwarizmi produced his most famous work, The Book of Restoring and Balancing. In it, al-Khwarizmi explained how to solve complex mathematical equations by a method called al-jabr, Arabic for reunion of broken parts, which came rendered in Latin as algebra. (See about those al- words?) On an even more basic level, al-Khwarizmi was instrumental in the spread of Arabic numerals. Not that he invented them, nor did

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  • (5/5)
    I never knew learning could be this fun! This book is a "hats off" to those people who gave us the words we use every day, but who have been utterly forgotten otherwise by time. I say that it is high time they start being remembered!
  • (4/5)
    This book was a fun read. It is a far ride from the customary academic works of word origins and etymologies even if this excursion includes what some readers may feel are vulgar neighborhoods. Perfect fun for those who are interested in the brief trip through the fascinating history of characters who have been forgotten even though their names are referred to everyday.
  • (4/5)
    Anonyponymous is a short, quick read, perfect for those who love knowing those bizarre little facts and etymological origin stories. I like that it goes into all the different origin stories if there are competing theories, as well as distinguishing words that were popularized by a figure rather than introduced by them (see: Hookers). There's a surprisingly expansive amount of detail interwoven for such a brief read.
  • (2/5)
    If you're looking for a casual trivia book with brief anecdotes about the history of certain eponyms, this is a good one to try. That's pretty much exactly what it is, without a lot of depth to the entries. It's like a survey course to whet the appetite and introduce the topic, but without going into major detail about eponyms or etymology.I picked it up at the library knowing this, as I was in the mood for something familiar and light, with a language bent. I came away with a sort of confused feeling, though. While the book did satisfy my expectations for it (and they weren't very high, I must say), there was something about Marciano's writing style that just didn't work for me. To sum it up, I think that it is trying too hard to be modern and slangy. It was like reading a series of Wikipedia pages that had been edited by some Something Awful goons, and then halfheartedly polished by an editor into something that wouldn't be too incomprehensible for the average person who isn't intimately familiar with internet culture. There are a lot of jokes in the definitions of the words before the anecdotes that reminded me a bit of the Devil's Dictionary (or, at least, riffs on it), but they didn't really match the more serious tone the entries - except when those same entries had random bits of internet slang, such as "jumping the shark". There was also a casual tone that felt like it was struggling to refrain from cursing, except when a "shit" or "fuck" escaped - a bit like a young person who regularly peppers their speech with "fuck" trying to clean their language up while in a more formal setting.I suppose, overall, the whole book came across as awkward to me, and it didn't really tread any new ground on the subject, either. I'd say rather than buying the book, one should just start from the Wikipedia page on eponyms and spend a few hours (days?) reading.For what it's worth, I found the first appendix the most intriguing part of the book, and I would like to find one that explores the topic more thoroughly. These four pages talk about certain eponyms and their adoption (or lack thereof) in different languages.
  • (4/5)
    I rather enjoyed this, more than I thought I would. A light-hearted romp through many words named after people or places but which have lost that connection, like maverick or diesel (both of which were originally named after real people).Certainly good filler reading for those little moments here and there during the day when you need a few minutes quick diversion!
  • (4/5)
    The "anonyponymous" words of the book's title are those that once referenced a person, real or fictional, but whose origin is no longer common knowledge. Of course, this is a matter of degree: I knew that "sandwich", "mentor", and "guillotine" began their life as names, but "tawdry", "cardigan", and "paparazzi" surprised me. I expect most readers will find similar surprises awaiting them inside this little book, and that's part of what makes it so delightful. And, obscure or not, Bemelmans Marciano supplies colorful details that makes the words come alive. I can't imagine anyone worth knowing who wouldn't find the topic interesting, so I'm sorry I didn't get around to reading this book before completing my holiday shopping.Having said that, many of the good bits are hidden in endnotes, making the process of reading Anonyponymous a frustrating one. I found myself flipping back and forth with nearly every page! And, in nearly every case, the notes were material that should have been incorporated into the main body of the text. Worse, the proper citations that ought to have appeared at the end of the book are absent. Given that the author mostly glossed over any controversy about the words' origins, both these shortcomings are regrettable. Finally, many of the 152 pages in this little book are taken up by illustrations that add nothing to the text, and the space could have been more profitably used by an index.In short, Anonyponymous is an entertaining trifle, but nothing more. I do recommend it as (in the author's words) "crapper material", but look elsewhere if you want a scholarly treatment of the subject.
  • (4/5)
    Anonyponymous is not a deep book or a particularly instructive book or the best book of its kind, but I have enjoyed its brief histories of words. This selection offers a look into the process of names becoming words divorced from their original referents (such as Spoonerisms). While I was previously acquainted with several of the entries' histories, I enjoyed learning of new ones (e.g. bloomers and leotards). This book would be an excellent gift for word nerds and makes great bathroom reading.
  • (4/5)
    As a voracious verbivore, long-time logophile and an inveterate etymologist, I used to pick up any new word book I saw. As time went on however , I became less completist (more discerning) in my purchases, and there had to be a certain "something" about a book to catch my eye. Well, the very title of this book itself hooked me- Anonyponymous. What a great coinage! Since I have a fair sized collection of etymology books, I have to admit that I was not expecting to acquire any really new information from this slim volume, but I was pleasantly surprised. The story of "to curry favor" was new to me, as were the tales of (among others) "procrustian", "yente", and "Ritzy". Anonyponymous is definitely a nice starter book for those interested in our endlessly fascinating language, but it has enough gems in it to make it a worthwhile addition to any word lover's library.
  • (3/5)
    A self professed bathroom read, this book has some interesting and entirely un-useful ecclectica. It is very approachable, may provide a conversation or two, and certainly is a study in the roots of words, phrases and some of those that go out of style, but not something I would say is a must-read.
  • (5/5)
    I enjoyed reading this witty compendium of the forgotten people behind some of the words in our language. Marciano writes brief, entertaining entries on the people behind the words and how their names became words to begin with. He uses a variety of contemporary allusions to add interest and humor to his entries. It's one of those books that one can either finish quickly, or nibble at when free time appears, such as waiting in line or using the bathroom. If you are looking for scholarship, this isn't the book you want--that much should be obvious. But if you want a light, humorously intellectual read, this is a good book to consider.
  • (4/5)
    This book is a good mix of genuine scholarship and light humor, rather on the lines of Will Cuppy (and a good deal better than Richard Armour). The entries cover the lives of people who are largely forgotten except for the words linked to their names. Most of the words were ones I happen to be familiar with as an English teacher (and long-time dictionary browser) but I thought Marciano was judicious in consdering some doubtful cases such as "hooker" and "crapper." (When I first heard the "crapper" story from a London tourist guide many years ago, I thought it was joke, but apparently not. )The text is enhanced by clever line drawings (again, very much in the tradition of, say, the illustrations for The Decline and Fall of Practically Everybody)
  • (4/5)
    A fun, brief, light read for anyone who enjoys word origins. These are specifically limited to words originating from people's names (real or fictional), and each essay explores the story of the person as much or more than the story of the word. A quick read, or a nice book to have around to dip into here and there, Marciano keeps it on the light side, with just enough humor thrown in. Personally, I'd have liked for this book to contain twice as many entries, and, whenever possible, even more about the "forgotton people behind everyday words".Os.
  • (3/5)
    "Anonyponymous: The Forgotten People Behind Everyday Words" is written by John Marciano who is perhaps best known for being an author in the children's series "Madeline". This, his latest work, is a very easy to read book, most suitable for "word geeks," literature lovers, linguistics students, students of the history of the English language, or anyone who is a fan of trivia. This book covers the origin of several words that are commonplace in the English language, but originally owed their start to being part of someone's name. Most people are aware of the Earl of Sandwich and his relationship to the food that bears his name, Mr. Crapper and his relationship to the toilet, and the word sadism as coming from Marquis de Sade. What about the pair of pants you are wearing? The word "pants" (originally Pantaloon) were named for Pantaleon, a physician. Shrapnel was named for Henry Shrapnel, the inventor of an exploding cannonball. You can read more about the origin of these words and many more by reading this book."Anonyponymous" is an entertaining read, although rather short, and is about the perfect size as a "stocking stuffer" for the holiday season.
  • (3/5)
    This is a slight book, with short, stand-alone chapters, putting it squarely in the “bathroom book” genre. The author’s premise is to explain a collection of words that are eponyms , that is, words taken from names, either real or fictional, but so common that the actual owners of the names are forgotten, usually along with their attendant capitalization. A lot of the etymologies will be familiar to most readers -- sandwich, peeler -- others were new to me --procrustean, janitor.
    Marciano has a breezy and straightforward style – several of his previous books were for children – and the book has no pretensions beyond being entertaining to dip into. Put it in the guest bedroom when you’re through with it.
  • (3/5)
    Anonyponymous is a dictionary-style book that provides a history of words that are not generally known to have come from a person's name. Most readers will probably know the origins of some of the words, such as gerrymander or sadism, but the origins of many of the words were unfamiliar to me. The stories behind these words are interesting and humorous. I generally find dictionary-style books difficult to read straight through, but this book reads more like a collection of very short essays. I doubt, though, that I would have purchased this book for myself, in part because it is quite short. It seems like it would be better as a gift--it's funny and has an attractive cover and nice illustrations.(Side note: Another reviewer has stated that the book contains factual errors in a few entries, but the examples provided are not really errors but differences in interpretation. There is also a reference to "bant" on page 135.)
  • (1/5)
    As a lover of both the English language and mysteries (and, let's face it, the two go hand in hand), I was really looking forward to this book. The entries are short and, generally, entertaining as are the illustrations, both by John Bemelmans Marciano. As a self-confessed pedant, I found a couple of problems with the book. First, the entry on cereal. The linking of Kellogg to the origin of cereal seems a little thin. Since "cereal" was being used to refer to edible grains since at least 1832 (per the OED), extending the name to something formed of cereal would seem a natural. The boosterism of flooding one's lower intestine with large amounts of water, let alone yogurt, also seems oddly misplaced, particularly as neither have been found by medical science to be of any particular benefit except in cases of impaction. It was a rather odd thing to find in a book dealing with etymology.Second was the entry on Thomas Crapper. The author states, "It does seem fair to question, however, just how a plumbing-fixtures manufacturer came by so serendipitous a surname." There really is no question. Thomas Crapper was baptized Sept. 28, 1836 with that name. No mystery there.Thirdly was hooligan. The author states that the word comes from a London bouncer named Patrick Hooligan. The OED states, "[Origin unascertained. The word first appears in print in daily newspaper police- court reports in the summer of 1898. Several accounts of the rise of the word, purporting to be based on first-hand evidence, attribute it to a misunderstanding or perversion of Hooley or Hooley's gang, but no positive confirmation of this has been discovered. The name Hooligan figured in a music-hall song of the eighteen-nineties, which described the doings of a rowdy Irish family, and a comic Irish character of the name appeared in a series of adventures in Funny Folks.] "There are a couple of similar sorts of entries and at least one editing error: on page 121, referring to "banting" (dieting), he says, "The verb, sadly, is obsolete today even in British English, though not quite obsolete all together. (see page 135)" There is no entry on "banting" on page 135. Take heart, Mr. Marciano, the word will never die as long as there are those of us who love Miss Marple. The word appears in at least one of the short stories from, "The Tuesday Club Murders".All in all a fairly entertaining, but flawed book. The inaccuracies make me suspicious of all the entries; it's hard to really enjoy a book when you feel you have to double-check every entry just to be sure.Edited to add: at $18 in hardcover for 144 pages not counting the footnotes (less than an hour's worth of reading), I'd say the book is over-priced.