Sunday, November 05, 2006

November 5: Gunpowder Plot Day

Today is the anniversary of a foiled plot to blow up the British Parliament. On the night before the ceremonial opening of Parliament on November 5, 1606, 36 barrels of gunpowder were discovered in the basement of the House of Lords. The perpetrators of the plot, 13 Catholics who hoped to topple the Protestant King, James I, were arrested, prosecuted, and hanged. Since that time, November 5th has been a night of thanksgiving. Celebrants of the failed coup light bonfires, set off fireworks, and burn effigies of the notorious rebels (1, 2).

Frequently in English the famous and infamous become enshrined in the language when their last names become common, lower case nouns or verbs (called eponyms). In rare cases, however, a first name becomes a part of the lexicon. The leader of the Gunpowder Plot not only became the subject of burned effigies, but also his first name became synonymous with anyone of odd appearance. Across the Atlantic, the name is used in American English to refer to any male, either bad or good. It is also a handy word used in its plural form to refer to any group of people (2).

Recently, the Gunpowder Plot and its notorious leader became the subject of a graphic novel and movie set in an alternative version of Britain. The title was V for Vendetta (1).

What full name of the leader of the Gunpowder Plot, and what is the common word that he gave us?

See tomorrow's post for the answer.

Quote of the Day:

Remember, Remember
The Fifth Of November
Gunpowder, Treason and plot
We see no reason
Why gunpowder Treason
Should ever be forgot

--Chant for the 5th of November celebrations


1 - . . . Fawkes and Bonfire Night.

2 - Word History and Mysteries. (by the editors of the American Heritage Dictionaries). Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2004.

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