Anonyponymous by John Bemelmans Marciano

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Authors: John Bemelmans Marciano
but in other tongues remains a synonym for hypnotize , or is relegated specifically to the practices of Franz Mesmer. Sometimes figurative meanings wander quite far afield. A judas is a traitor in many languages, but in French it refers to a peephole, betrayer of the person being spied upon.
    Literary eponyms are less likely than others to cross borders, excepting those based on widespread classics such as Don Quixote , attested to by English quixotic , Spanish quijotesco , and the arabesque Italian adverb donchisciottescamente . (In Italian, Cervantes’s work is Don Chisciotte [key-SHOAT-tay], if that helps parse it.) As for a word from an English book, lolita is spreading fast, more so in other languages than in the one it was written in. Generally it means a sexually precocious or aggressive young girl, although in Japan the word has come to represent a goth fashion style.
    Ludwig Bemelmans’s 1941 travel book The Donkey Inside produced a word unique to the Spanish of Ecuador, bemelmans , which means “foreigner who makes fun of natives.” A sampling of text that might have offended: “We have a revolution here every Thursday at half-past two, and our government is run like a nightclub.”
    A number of people live on in other languages but not their own. Martinet as an eponym does not exist in the drillmaster’s native tongue, although French has a word chatterton that means electrical tape after its British inventor, while bant endures in Swedish as the word for dieting. And though Pullman (after George, developer of the sleeper car) has faded from the English vocabulary along with the tendency to take overnight train rides, pullman (pronounced POOL-mahn) has spread to become the general Italian word for bus.
    I’d like to end our linguistic tour by nominating a particularly handy word for English-language adoption. Johann Ballhorn, a printer during the last quarter of the sixteenth century, was responsible for publishing an important law book for his home city of Luebeck. In the process of correcting an earlier edition—a typical task of the printer in those days— Ballhorn wound up making mistakes where none had earlier been, thereby causing a legacy of legal disputes and bequeathing to German a verb, verballhornen , “to make worse through correcting.”

    Most eponyms die. Few outlive the fame of the people who birthed them, and most fade even faster. Some are superseded by synonyms while others become technologically obsolete, as is the case with the brougham , hansom , and phaeton , three types of horse carriages named after a couple of Englishmen and a kid who wrecked his father’s wheels. Fiction-based eponyms depend largely upon the vagaries of literary taste. In this respect no one has suffered more than Charles Dickens, once the most widely read writer in the English language, now falling off reading lists everywhere. A scrooge is known to all and a fagin understood by many, but who still knows what gamp , peck-sniffi an , or gradgrind mean? (If you want to be the one, they are: an umbrella, after Sarah Gamp of Martin Chuzzlewit ; hypocritical, for Seth Pecksniff of same; and a man given to facts, such as Thomas Gradgrind in Hard Times .)
    Below find some eponyms lamentably lost or seriously imperiled. Language is what its speakers make it, so you have power to revive them.

    annie oakley
    Annie Oakley, the sharpshooting star of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show, had her own breed of card tricks. At a distance of thirty paces, she could shoot out the heart in the ace of hearts, split a playing card in half with a bullet edgeways, and shoot half a dozen holes into a card tossed into the air before it hit the ground. Her name came to mean a free ticket or pass, as in one that’s already been punched.
    Status: defunct

    A guidebook, after the widely read publications of Karl Baedeker, whose company started producing travel manuals in 1827. The “Baedeker raids”

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