Tuesday, July 29, 2008

David's Definitions for September 2008


(Will appear in the September 2008 issue of Community News)

An eponymous person is the person something is named after. For example, Hamlet is the eponymous protagonist of Shakespeare's play of the same name. Queen Victoria is the eponymous monarch who reigned during the Victorian age. Andrew Jackson is the eponymous American president whose political philosophy is known as Jacksonian Democracy. The practice of using a famous name to refer to something is ancient, but the word eponymous only dates to the middle of the 19th century. What's curious is that in recent times, the word has begun to be used to refer to the thing being named, instead of to the person. If opera singer John Hugevoice puts out a CD named John Hugevoice, you might hear the CD referred to as eponymous. But that's hugely wrong. It's the man who's eponymous, not the CD.

I'm collecting all of these at: http://www.dvorkin.com/davidsdefs.html


Travis Erwin said...

Okay, you've taught me something today. Thanks.

TGirsch said...

That means I blew it recently. I was relating a story to my sister-in-law about how "Murphy got the better of them," and she asked "Who's Murhpy?" My response: "He of the eponymous law." D'oh! Please correct my answer. :)

And while we're at it, suggest a single word that would correctly replace "eponymous" in that context.

David said...

Truth to tell, I used to use that word the wrong way around. Doing these definitions has been educational and sometimes embarrassing.

The only word I can find is "eponym" -- but that's the word, not the person. The name Murphy is the eponym. Which makes me wonder why it's not correct, after all, to say that Murphy is eponymous.