Of all the honors a man can be granted--statues, tributes, whores--there's nothing like having your last name turned into a word to ensure your immortality. Your name will ring down through the ages, etched into the language itself, an eternal reminder of your achievements.
Unless, of course, you earned the word because you fucked up so badly that the world just had to remember your horrible example. That's the case for guys like...
John Duns Scotus was the closest thing fifteenth-century philosophy had to a rock star. With the chick magnet handle "Doctor Subtilis," he developed a subtle argument for the existence of God, the univocity of being and mounted a spirited defense for the Immaculate Conception as fact. He was beatified by the Pope for his intellectual work and also for the invention of the Catholic schoolgirl.
How it Happened:
If the fifteenth century was Scotus's arena rock tour, the sixteenth was the sad crash and pathetic reunion tour playing state fairs and dives. Scotus's work was considered so awful that his middle name became synonymous with somebody incapable of scholarship, i.e. a dunce.
Yes, you read that right, a philosopher responsible for big chunks of Catholic thought and beatified by the freakin' Pope was also the inspiration for a word denoting a moron.
English. It's a cruel language, man.
When somebody gets a boner from pain
We all know that "sadism" comes from the excruciating elevator music performed by pop band Sade, and the pleasure that comes from inflicting 80s music on the unsuspecting. The flip side of that coin is Leopold Von Sacher-Masoch.
Mostly, Sacher-Masoch was known for his novels, which apparently are really awesome if you can read German, as most of his fiction remains untranslated into English. But the important novel, which IS in English, would be "Venus In Furs." The fatal flaw of the English translation is leaving off the opening sentence: "Dear Penthouse, I never thought this would happen to me..."
How it Happened:
"Venus In Furs" isn't really a novel so much as a memoir. Sacher-Masoch, you see, had a mistress, Fanny Pistor, whose name was made for jokes. They entered into a contract where Leopold would be her slave for six months and his only stipulation was that she wear furs as much as possible, especially when she was in a "cruel mood." You can see where this one is going.
Hence, the word "masochism" was coined by noted psychologist Dr. von Krafft-Ebing in "Psychopathia Sexualis," along with the notation that "Venus In Furs" was also an awesome Velvet Underground song. Sacher-Masoch strenuously objected, but he was thrown out of Krafft-Ebing's office after someone punched him and he started breathing funny.
A two-dimensional shape of a man
Etienne de Silhouette was a man with a shit job: Controller-General for the regime of Louis XIV. He had to curb the spending of the king, finance the Seven Years' War and somehow keep the entire nation afloat. Keep in mind Louis had seven guys on staff just to help him get into his shirt in the morning.
You don't even want to KNOW how many people are on his Pants Team.
How it Happened:
Silhouette took some pretty drastic measures, by the standards of the time. He created the "general subvention," essentially taxing signs of external wealth, including such luxuries as doors. It worked out to approximately ten percent. He also took and melted down goldware and silverware to help fund all of Louis' wars, which is why, today, when we want money from someone we say "fork it over."
(That's not even a little bit true, but could you imagine?)
Since he was taking so much, often by the time he was done, the rich couldn't swing their usual sculptures depicting them as gods or flattering paintings that hid the peasants they were standing on to look taller. Hence, the silhouette, a simple paper cutout of a person's profile, named after the tax man who had made the formerly disgustingly rich man a shadow of himself, i.e. slightly less rich. Showing a remarkable sense of irony, Steve Jobs proceeded to use them in the commercials for the earliest, most expensive iPods.
This is progress?
Meaningless win that wasn't worth it
The second cousin of Alexander the Great, King Pyrrhus was no stranger to kicking ass. He booted the Carthaginians out of Sicily, absolutely pounded the Romans and was considered one of the greatest military leaders of his time.
Yeah, you go, Guy. Cut that tree, cut it good.
How it Happened:
Of course, even great military commanders have their bad days. Pyrrhus won the Battle of Asculum, but he lost so many of his generals that he famously replied to somebody congratulating him that "one more victory like this and I'll surely be lost!" Which is how a guy even Hannibal (the conqueror, not the cannibal) respected wound up inspiring the phrase "Pyrrhic victory," which means the cost of winning outweighs the benefits. A good modern example would be the Patriots' 2008 season.
Yep, a year later and we're still making fun of the Patriots.