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The Origin of "Boycott"

Here's something I bet most people don't know -- certainly I didn't until yesterday. From page 406 of Modern Ireland:

Above all, rent was withheld, evicted farms were kept empty, and landlords ostracized by the traditional weapon of excluding the transgressor from all transactions within the community -- now called, after its most celebrated victim, the 'boycott.'
As a footnote explains:
Charles Cunningham Boycott (1832-97): born in Norfolk; retired from the army as a captain and became Lord Erne's Mayo agent. 1873; prominent victim of the 'moral Coventry'policy to which his name was subsequently given, autumn 1880; crops harvested by fifty Cavan Orangemeen, who worked under the protection of 1,000 members of the Royal Irish Constabulary, at a cost of [pound sign] 10,000 to the government, November 1880; left Ireland permanently, 1886; gave evidence to the Parnell Commission, 1888.
And there you have it. Mr Boycott. Weird.

April 10, 2005 | Permalink


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Goodness. Google for "J. Boycott" (very common Anglo initial) and you get a lot of google hits. Wonder if the 'Coventry' in the cite above has anything to do with Coventry midlands, and if this guy is a descendant. He should specialize in civil rights defenses. :-)

Posted by: Saheli | Apr 10, 2005 3:37:34 PM

This is one bit of trivia which most Irish people can be expected to know, unsurprisingly. See also, "Beyond the Pale." Interesting that the footnote in Foster's book explains the term 'Boycott' by using another distinctive regionalism (English, this time), viz, "To be sent to Coventry."

Posted by: Kieran | Apr 10, 2005 3:46:03 PM

There are a number of ordinary words that devolve from the names of individuals -- chauvanism, for example (Nicholas Chauvin). Also see Raymond L. Asshole, Republican Congressman from Missouri (1912-1930).

Posted by: herostratus | Apr 10, 2005 4:04:07 PM

General Joseph Hooker.

Posted by: abb1 | Apr 10, 2005 4:22:06 PM

When I was younger, I had a book about words like this (boycott, hooker, chauvinism, etc.). Great browsing material.

Posted by: Tom Hilton | Apr 10, 2005 4:25:03 PM

Rick Santorum surely deserves a mention here.

Posted by: Ken C. | Apr 10, 2005 5:11:10 PM

Beyond the Pale, I knew, though I've also heard suggestions that this refers to the Pale of Settlement in Russia rather than the Irish Pale.

Posted by: Matthew Yglesias | Apr 10, 2005 5:23:47 PM

I'm kind of surprised that you're surprised, Matthew. Kind of the sort of thing that you would find in name origins like lynch, for example.

The only origin I have heard for beyond the pale is the Russian one.

Posted by: Randy Paul | Apr 10, 2005 6:00:44 PM

Oh yeah? Well if you like Irish word trivia, how about "quiz"? That word is derived from an episode in Dublin when someone bet someone else they could get a new word into the language in a matter of days. The guy went around Dublin painting "quiz" everywhere, and since no one knew what it meant, it acquired the mysterious meaning it has today.

Posted by: Marshall | Apr 10, 2005 6:19:28 PM

Pretty odd...

Posted by: Sam | Apr 10, 2005 6:28:15 PM

And there you have it. Mr Boycott.

Captain Boycott. And anyone who's studied 19th-century British or Irish history knows it. (I'm only aware of an Irish origin for 'beyond the pale', though.)

Conversely, I suspect not too many non-Americans know the precise origins of 'gerrymander'.

Posted by: ahem | Apr 10, 2005 6:44:49 PM

ambrose burnside had mammoth sideburns

Posted by: 50 | Apr 10, 2005 6:57:42 PM

And Lord Erne's comment is also apropos in an age of chickenhawks:
"Let those ruffians know that if they think they can intimidate me by shooting my agent they are very much mistaken!"
My favourite eponym is
derrick [noun {C} SPECIALIZED - 1; a type of crane (= machine with an arm-like part) used for moving things on and off ships]
which is named after Mr. Derick, a 16th-century English hangman.

Posted by: chris Borthwick | Apr 10, 2005 8:21:25 PM

Let us not forget "Thomas Crapper"


Posted by: rbs | Apr 10, 2005 10:26:34 PM

Saheli, almost all the Google hits would refer to the great (if disliked) 1960s-1980s English cricket player Jeffrey Boycott

Posted by: derrida derider | Apr 10, 2005 10:46:12 PM

That word is derived from an episode in Dublin when someone bet someone else they could get a new word into the language in a matter of days.

Er, well, the first known mention of that anecdote was 1836, though the incident itself was later assigned a date in the 1790's. The word was already in use by then, however, suggesting that this origin is apocryphal.

Leading us to:

Thomas Anecdote (1563-1618): a courtier of Queen Elizabeth's who always had a relevant, plausible story to explain everything,


Nicephoros Apocryphos: (1st Century BC): author of those middle books in non-Protestant Bibles.

Posted by: mds | Apr 10, 2005 11:02:31 PM

Let us not forget "Thomas Crapper"

Coincidentally there was a story yesterday that a "Major Tom Crapper, a distant relative" of the commode-preneur, was getting married right after Charles & Camilla at Windsor Guildhall.

Major Crapper? yikes...

Posted by: tomf | Apr 10, 2005 11:17:56 PM

And you know what is really bizarre -- I was looking up the meaning of "jumping the shark" yesterday on Wikipedia, and found a link to "Chuck Cunningham Syndrome" which is apparently now the term used when a character inexplicably disappears from a TV show (Chuck Cunningham was Richie's elder brother on Happy Days who disappeared after the first show and was never seen or referred to again.)
So not only is Mr. Boycott's last name now a part of the language, so are his first names in an odd sort of way.

Posted by: CathiefromCanada | Apr 11, 2005 1:00:42 AM

Sorry - it was after the first season that Chuck "went to college" and was never seen again on the show.

Posted by: CathiefromCanada | Apr 11, 2005 1:02:15 AM

And the term "Rambo" will be one discribing a sort of gung ho, overtly military hell raiser long after all films by Sly Stallone are long forgotten.

Posted by: Rick DeMent | Apr 11, 2005 7:47:52 AM

One of my personal favorites is that the Outerbridge Crossing (between Jersey and Staten Island) is named after Eugenius Outerbridge.

Posted by: Devin McCullen | Apr 11, 2005 9:00:22 AM

I'm not sure if this phrase exists in America, but in Britain people sometimes say 'GORDon Bennett!', referring to a turn-of-the-20th-century editor of the New York Herald. It's a slightly facetious way of blaspheming, and the name was at hand.

P.S. Derrida derider, the name of The World's Greatest Yorkshireman is *Geoffrey* Boycott.

Posted by: neruda boy | Apr 11, 2005 9:28:32 AM

Lieutenant Shrapnel.
Vidkung Quisling.
Franz Mesmer.
Lord Cardigan.

Posted by: David A. Smith | Apr 11, 2005 10:03:27 AM

The `Coventry' referred to comes from the English expression `to be sent to Coventry'. When some is sent to Coventry, no one will interact with him/her in any way, including speaking. Union used this method to enforce loyalty. (West Point does or did the same thing, I believe, when someone was deemed to have violated the honor code but refused to resign -- there is a movie about it.) Why Coventry, I do not know.

Posted by: David Margolies | Apr 11, 2005 11:11:50 AM

Indeed. Lord Cardigan, fought at the battle of Balaclava under the command of Lord Raglan, a protege of the Duke of Wellington (boot).

Posted by: chris | Apr 11, 2005 11:24:25 AM

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