Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Supercalifragelistic eponymous docius.

What does eponymous mean?

Djong and I were chatting yesterday when she brought up the question. I didn't know what it was so I went here and here, and all I got was "Of, relating to, or constituting an eponym.".

I was on the verge of suggesting that "eponym" might have gotten its roots from the name "Eponine", the lovely, miserable daughter of the Thenadiers in Victor Hugo's classic "Les Miserables". Hey, I thought it was funny.

Kill me for stupidity, but I didn't check on the word "eponym". So there I was, wracking my brains for a possible meaning to the blasted word, when I decided to ask this question on Google:

"What does "eponymous" mean?"

One of the results that came out was a 1996 feature article on Slate, "Naming Names: The Eponym Craze". It was written by Cullen Murphy, who was then the Managing Editor of The Atlantic.

He wrote,
An eponym, of course, is a word that has been formed from the name of a person, place, or thing (eponumos is a Greek word meaning "named on"). For some eponymous terms, the eponymy is obvious, or famous: Caesarean section; graham cracker; Molotov cocktail; boycott; leotard; Luddite; silhouette; volt. Many more eponyms, though familiar, are not so obviously eponymous. Maudlin, for instance, comes from the name of Mary Magdalene, who in painted and sculpted form is typically shown weeping. Masochism comes from the name of the demented 19th-century novelist Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, who described the relevant eponymous practices in his writings.
So in practice, we've been using these words for a time but not really knowing that they were eponyms. Or maybe it was just me.

Murphy also contended in the article that eponyms never needed any special tending to make them grow (and this was in 1996). Some of his examples are the following:
  • To gump through life is to make one's way by means of dumb luck.
  • To espouse two positions at once is to pull a Clinton.
  • To adopt the hairstyle popularized by the actress Jennifer Aniston on Friends is to get a Rachel or to get a Friends do.
  • A sagan is a unit of quantity equivalent to "billions and billions"--the quotation an unintentionally self-parodic trademark of the late astronomer Carl Sagan.
  • Imeldific, made possible by Imelda Marcos, refers to ostentatious grandiosity and extravagant bad taste.
  • An Iraqi manicure is torture.
  • Waldheimer's disease is a convenient lapse of memory.
What other eponyms can you think of?