8 People Who Inspired Words (For Embarrassing Reasons)


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

The Word:




The Man:

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.

Thanks, John!

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.

Leopold Von Sacher-Masoch

The Word:



When somebody gets a boner from pain

The Man:

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.

Etienne de Silhouette

The Word:



A two-dimensional shape of a man

The 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?

King Pyrrhus of Epirus

The Words:

Pyrrhic victory


Meaningless win that wasn't worth it

The Man:

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.

Thomas Bowdler

The Word:



Editing out the naughty bits from somebody else's work

The Man:

Thomas Bowdler spent most of his working life being fairly inoffensive. Mostly he advocated prison reform and played chess with the best player of the day, who took Bowdler so seriously he played against him blindfolded, sometimes without a pawn, while playing against other players at the same time. And kicked his ass. Three times. But that's not the reason Tommy gets a word in the English language.

Though, again, he totally sucked at chess.

How it Happened:

No, that happened when Bowdler decided to publish the Family Shakespeare. What's wrong with a Shakespeare collection? Plenty, when you decide to start cutting shit out in the name of decency. Apparently, Bowdler thought Shakespeare would be a lot more awesome without the swearing and hookers. Imagine Die Hard if your grandma was editing it. That's the Bowdler version of Shakespeare.

To celebrate the massive stick up his ass, the word "bowdlerize," meaning to edit out offensive content in a work already written, was coined, probably because they were too polite back in the 1800s to just come right out and call him a buzzkill to his face.

Vidkun Quisling

The Word:



Traitor, or double agent

The Man:

Vidkun Quisling might as well just have his photo next to the word "loser" in the dictionary.

In 1933, Quisling founded National Unity, the Norwegian fascist party. Though his connections managed to bring in a whopping two percent of the national vote, the party steadily became less and less popular. Kind of like Ralph Nader, only more evil (but less obnoxious).

Still not as bad as Quisling, Nader just can't win.

Of course, the Nazis were buddies of his, or were until April 9th, 1940, when he blew their plan to smoothly take Norway over and make him head of the puppet government by blundering onto the air and essentially shouting "I'm Prime Minister now, bitches!" The king and the government took a dim view of this and, thanks to Quisling, taking Norway became a huge fight.

How it Happened:

Needless to say, Quisling was highly popular in Norway, so popular, in fact, that once the Nazis fell they wasted no time in killing his ass with a firing squad. Even then everyone was so pissed off at him that his last name became a synonym for "traitor."

"Even I think you're kind of a dick."

Jean Martinet

(Editor's Note: Okay, as you probably already know, the above guy isn't Jean Martinet. In fairness to us, it is really fucking hard to find a picture of an obscure French guy who died in the 1600s.)

The Word:



A dick who follows the rules, no matter what

The Man:

Jean Martinet was really awesome at coming up with new ways to kill people or to kill people more efficiently, which was useful in 17th Century France, where killing people was all the rage. He introduced the bayonet, thus finally getting rid of the "pointy-sticks" part of the French military. He also actually made warfare more humane by inventing the depot system. Instead of raping and burning their way across whatever land they were in, including their own country, soldiers got food and clothing from storehouses on the road.

One of these people might be Jean Martinet.

How it Happened:

He also introduced drill methods to turn a bunch of hayseeds and mercs into a disciplined fighting force, and he quickly got a reputation for being a merciless prick. How merciless? A martinet is now the term for a humorless prick who rigidly follows the rules, no matter what. It's also the name of a whip.

Also considered humorless.

Later, Martinet died by "friendly fire" during battle, which we like to imagine involved about 17 of his own men "accidentally" stabbing him in the head.

Charles Lynch

The Word:



To put to death without a trial, usually by hanging

The Man:

Things were pretty hairy during the Revolutionary War and, sometimes, you couldn't wait for details like "evidence" or "due process." Which is where Charles Lynch comes in.

Odd for a Quaker, Lynch really liked being in power and bossing people around. The Quakers actually booted him out for taking an oath of office, which handily lifted any sort of pansy-ass ideas about pacificism and paved the way for Lynch to tell other people to beat up some guy.

"That guy. He looks pretty guilty, I guess."

How it Happened:

Unlike most people, who if they wanted to kick ass joined the army, Lynch didn't like his opponents to be able to fight back. Hence, he rounded up anybody he thought was supporting the king and did everything from forcing them into the army to stealing their shit. Or he just had them whipped.

Under what law? HIS law. More specifically, the Lynch law, which in turn is the source for lynching, which today brings to mind crowds of rednecks with torches hanging a minority from a tree.

That's because Lynch had beating total strangers without due process legitimized by the Virginia government in 1782, thus laying down a fine Southern tradition which has endured to modern times.

Way to go, Chuck!

For some filthy etymology, check out 8 Everyday Words With X-Rated Origins. Or get your vernacular in check with 9 Words That Don't Mean What You Think.

And be sure to check out Cracked.com's Top Picks because the word "links" is derived from... just check them out, ok?

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