Many words have interesting stories behind them.

The word ‘galvanise’, for example, meaning ‘to stimulate’ as in "the speech galvanised the workforce", is derived from one Luigi Galvani, an 18th century Italian physicist who discovered voltaic electricity by attaching the legs of dead frogs to pairs of different metals. The technique was originally employed to create muscular spasms through electric charges, but the term soon began to be used figuratively.

The word ‘lynch’, meaning ‘to execute without trial’, derives from a certain William Lynch, a 19th century American planter, who set up unofficial courts to try suspected criminals. The unfortunate victims of these courts were usually sentenced to death and summarily executed and "Lynch’s law" soon passed into the language as the verb ‘to lynch’.

The word ‘guillotine’ is also an eponym, a word that derives from a person’s name. Joseph Guillot was an 18th century French physician, who advocated the use of the guillotine as opposed to other forms of execution on the grounds that it was more humanitarian. It is interesting to note that this word has also come to be used in British politics to mean to ‘cut short’ as in "The Bill was guillotined due to lack of time".

In a different area, Texas rancher Samuel Maverick has also given his name to the language. While it was standard practice for ranchers to brand their cattle for identification purposes, Maverick neglected to do so, and his cattle remained unbranded as they roamed the prairies. Thus, originally, a `maverick` was different from the rest of the herd. Its meaning has now passed from cattle to people and is used to describe someone who is different from other people for some reason, particularly in the sense of a rebel or non-conformist.

An American Civil War general known as Joseph Hooker provides the origin of the word ‘hooker’, a colloquial term for prostitute. The exact reason for this connection has never been firmly established, although it is said that Hooker used to lure his enemies into ambushes by the strategic deployment of prostitutes. In any event, his name has been immortalised to describe members of "the oldest profession".

Perhaps the unfortunate soldiers trapped in this way were `mesmerised` by what they saw. If so, the word used to describe their fascination derives from the 18th century Austrian physician Franz Anton Mesmer, who treated his patients by inducing in them a trance-like state through the use of magnets. Mesmer himself attributed his powers to the supernatural but it appears that he was little more than a very effective hypnotist.

The word ‘hooligan’ is widely used today, often to describe football fans and has passed from English into a number of other languages. Its origin lies in a regular visitor to the Lamb and Flag pub in South London at the end of the 19th century, a certain Patrick Hoolihan, an Irishman who had a reputation for excessively rowdy behaviour. Hoolihan and his family behaved in such an anti-social manner that anyone behaving in a similar way was compared to the Hoolihans and gradually the word has spread, encompassing a slight change of pronunciation and spelling on the way, and is now a very common term.


Dodaj komentar Sviđa mi se - (0) Ne sviđa mi se - (0)    

  • Story on Words 1
  • Story on Words 2