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Words at Play

Who Gave "Ritzy" All That Style?

Top 10 Words from People's Names


After opening his first property in Paris in 1898, César Ritz went on to become "king of hoteliers and hotelier to kings."

(Coco Chanel, one particularly discerning guest, lived and died in the Ritz Paris.)

But did the man himself have a ritzy childhood? Not quite: he grew up on a farm.

Facing famine in 19th century Ireland, poor farmers asked their estate manager, Charles Cunningham Boycott, for a rent reduction.

He rejected their pleas; they refused to pay him.

Boycott brought in new workers and won the battle. But he lost the war to history: his name became used for this kind of organized protest.

In an age when execution generally involved getting tortured to death, the no-nonsense beheading was a privilege for nobles only.

A doctor named Joseph-Ignace Guillotin changed that.

During the French Revolution, in the spirit of equality, he advocated a new device - no man with axe required - that brought this technique to the masses.

Ambrose Burnside was a Civil War general (Union Army) with impressive facial hair.

After he appeared in parades in Washington, DC, his long bushy side-whiskers became fashionable.

Those whiskers were first known as burnsides; the word later grew into sideburns.

Virginia, 1780s.

Captain William Lynch leads a vigilante group that takes the law into its own hands - probably to execute opponents of the American Revolution.

His method became known as Lynch's law, and his name became a verb that evokes the worst of mob justice.

Samuel A. Maverick is famous for what he didn't do.

A Texas lawyer in the 1800s, he once received a fee in cattle rather than cash. Not being a rancher, he simply let his herd wander.

Unbranded cattle were called mavericks - and that word kept roaming until it included others who reject the crowd.

The Marquis de Sade was a naughty boy and a nasty man.

Arrested many times for kidnapping and abusing people, he could never stop himself from deriving pleasure from hurting others.

He died in an insane asylum, but his name lives on.

Sexual pleasure from pain and humiliation: the Austrian writer Leopold von Sacher-Masoch shared his fantasies about it in his 19th century novels.

Even before his death (like de Sade, in an asylum) the word derived from his name appeared in medical dictionaries.

Étienne de Silhouette was a French finance minister in the 1700s whose name became a byword for outline.

One theory for this maintains that the minister was extremely cheap - and would never permit a full portrait when a simple outline would do.

Sandwich

The Earl of Sandwich was a distinguished military man and politician in 18th century England.

He was also a gambler who could spend 24 continuous hours at the tables. According to legend, rather than interrupt his play for meals, he ordered slices of cold beef between pieces of toast.

Others had what Sandwich was eating; and soon, in a sense, were eating him.




Seen and Heard