Tuesday, March 28, 2006

March 28: Eponym Day

An eponym is a word derived from a real or imaginary person. For example, the word shrapnel evolved from Henry Shrapnel, an English artillery officer who developed an exploding shell that sent out bits of metal. Most often the capitalized proper noun that refers to the specific person becomes lowercase as it is transformed into a general noun, adjective, or verb.

So, what makes March 28 a date related to the de-capitalization of words? Well, it just happens to be the birthday of the "Father of Decapitation," Joseph Ignace Guillotine (1738-1814). Ironically, this French physician was against capital punishment. He suggested the beheading device to the French Legislative Assembly with the hope that a more humane and less painful form of execution would be a logical steppingstone to the elimination of capital punishment altogether.

The words capitalization and capital punishment share a common etymology; Cap in Latin means head. Capital as it refers to letters, therefore, means head letter. Capital as it refers to capital punishment means execution by decapitation.

Challenge: Off With Their Head Letters
Use a good dictionary to look up the meanings of the following lowercase words. Also, try to find the complete capitalized first and last names of the people from whom they are derived.


Quote of the Day: Two men look through the same bars; one sees the mud, and the other the stars. –Frederick Langbridge

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