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Updated on October 28, 2012

Origin of Some Words

English is full of words with very interesting origins. Here are some words connected with people and places.

BOYCOTT: Irish farmers protested against the high rent collected by Charles Cunningham Boycott an estate agent of Earl Erne of Mayo County, by ostracizing him. Any similar action later by others came to be termed as boycott. There are plenty of examples in history, some of which are, American boycott of British goods in 1769 and by Indians in 1921 in their fight for freedom from British rule.

CALICO: This word is associated with a place called CALICUT, a coastal town in South India, where Vasco da Gama landed. Calico is a kind of cotton cloth which was originally imported from India.

CHAUVIN: A word used to convey bellicose patriotism. Owes its origin to Nicholas Chauvin, a French soldier, whose devotion and veneration of Napoleon Bonaparte, was so excessive, that he became a laughing stock among others.

DAMASK: A fabric which derives its name from Damascus, the place where it was first made.

DAMOCLE'S SWORD: This word is used to convey imminent danger in the midst of prosperity or good times. Legend has it that, when a sycophant extolled the happiness of Damocles, the ruler of Syracuse, the tyrant made the flatterer sit at a banquet with a sword suspended over his head with thin hair. This was in order to show him how precarious a ruler's happiness is.

EPICUREAN: Used to describe someone, devoted to the pleasures of life. Owes its origin to the Greek philosopher Epicurus (300 BC) who held the view that pleasure is the highest good.

FRANKFURTERS: This word is associated with the place, Frankfurt, Germany. As the burghers of this city commonly consumed smoked beef and pork sausages, it came to be known by this name.

GALVANISM: A physical phenomenon, discovered by the Italian scientist, Luigi Galvani while conducting experiments in chemically produced electricity.

HOBSON'S CHOICE: This is no choice at all. A Cambridge horse keeper by name Hobson always insisted that hirer's of his horses, must select it in a regular order. As it was Hobson's choice that prevailed, this word was used to convey no choice.

JUGGERNAUT: Any massive thing moving relentlessly forward and crushing all in its path. This word originates from the Sanskrit word ‘Jagganath' which is another name of the Hindu God Vishnu. In a place called Puri, India there is a temple where the presiding deity JAGANNATH is taken in a chariot pulled by devotees, during the annual festival. Being immensely massive and unstoppable, this word came to be used to describe monstrous structures.

MARTINET: Anyone who is a very strict disciplinarian is called a martinet. Martinet was a French General who reformed the French army during the rein of King Louis XIV and was a very strict man.


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