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Wednesday, May 03, 2006

May 3: Eponymous Adjectives Day

Today is the birth date of Niccolo Machiavelli (1469-1527) the author of one of the most influential political treatises ever written, The Prince (1513). Machiavelli’s work is so well know that his name has become synonymous with unscrupulous political duplicity and cunning.

Machiavelli was born in Florence in an age of Italian city-states. He worked as a diplomat for the Florentine Republic and studied the political tactics of one particular Italian ruler: Cesare Borgia. Machiavelli made his own share of political mistakes, and when the Medici family dissolved the Forentine Republic in 1512, Machiavelli was removed from office and imprisoned.

After his own fall from power, Machiavelli went to work writing his guidebook for rulers and politicians. Unlike anything that had been written before, Machiavelli’s work dealt with practical, no nonsense approaches to gaining and maintaining political power (1).

Reading just a few brief excerpts from The Prince, it is easy to understand how his work became associated with an "ends justifies the means" style of politics:


A prince never lacks legitimate reasons to break his promise.

Before all else, be armed.

God is not willing to do everything, and thus take away our free will and that share of glory which belongs to us.

Hatred is gained as much by good works as by evil.

He who wishes to be obeyed must know how to command. It is better to be feared than loved, if you cannot be both.

It is double pleasure to deceive the deceiver.

It is much more secure to be feared than to be loved.

Of mankind we may say in general they are fickle, hypocritical, and greedy of gain.

One who deceives will always find those who allow themselves to be deceived.

Politics have no relation to morals.

An eponym is a word derived from a real or imaginary person (See Word Daze March 28). For example, the noun 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.

Unlike most eponyms, however, Machiavelli is not used as a noun, but rather as an adjective. Machiavellian is not the only example of this language phenomenon. Other names such as George Orwell, Lord Byron, and Franz Kafka, have entered the language as adjectives: Orwellian, Byronic, and Kafkaesque. There seems to be little rhyme or reason to which adjective related suffix is attached to the name; similarly, whether or not these adjectives are capitalized seems to have no single hard and fast rule. Most are capitalized, but some, such as plutonic, quixotic, satanic, are not.

Today’s Challenge: Pay no attention to that adjective behind the curtain!

Using a good dictionary, see if you can track down the original name and a little background, such as occupation and/or sphere of influence, for each of the following eponymous adjectives:

Arthurian

Calvinist

draconian

Jungian

narcissistic

Procrustean

Sisyphean

Socratic

stentorian

Victorian


Quote of the Day: Adults are obsolete children. –Dr. Seuss (Theodor Geisel)

1 – Raftery, Miriam. 100 Books that Shaped World History. San Mateo, CA: Bluewood Books, 2002.

2 comments:

Logophile said...

Not to pick nits, you have a well ordered blog here, but you have left an S off the name of one of my favorite authors.
Seuss
If you are interested, you might try the quizzes I have posted on my blog on Tuesdays. April was poetry month so those feature poems and poets heavily. Might be fun if that is your sort of thing.

logophile said...

Thanks for taking the time for the feedback. I'll change the S and will check our your Tuesday quizzes.