6 People Whose Names Took on Regrettable Meanings
Imagine having your name turned into a common word that will still be in use hundreds of years after your death. Cool, huh? Now imagine that the word named after you means something like "He who has his way with farm animals." Before you say that something like that could never happen to you, consider the fact that it has totally happened to other people. You've almost certainly used some of those words at some point today.
We've told you before about the real men who inspired embarrassing words like "dunce" and "masochism," but they weren't the only ones in that unfortunate situation. Here are six more people who probably wished that everyone would just stop saying their names.
"Chauvinist" (from Nicolas Chauvin)
"Chauvinist," as in "Of course I know what 'chauvinist' means, you sexist pig."
Nicolas Chauvin was (supposedly) an early 19th century French army soldier and Napoleon Bonaparte's number one fan. When he wasn't singing praises to Napoleon, Chauvin passed the time getting poked at with bayonets. He is said to have been badly wounded in service a total of 17 times, and as a result, he "had three fingers amputated suffered a shoulder fracture and a horridly disfiguring facial wound." And yet Chauvin kept coming back for more, fueled by his insane devotion to his beloved emperor.
"I only need two fingers to hold this ridiculous pipe."
In other words, the guy was basically a real-life version of the accident-prone Inspector Clouseau from the Pink Panther movies combined with Smithers from The Simpsons (with Napoleon being his Mr. Burns).
While Napoleon himself was apparently fond enough of Chauvin to reward his devotion with a small pension, everyone else saw him as a ridiculous ass-clown who took the whole "patriotism" thing way too far. After Napoleon's fall, Chauvin's name became a synonym for anyone who was extremely patriotic to the point of stupidity. Entire plays and books were written about the poor idiot -- how much of his life really happened and how much came from those stories is up for debate.
This roughly translates to "Chauvin the Shitheaded."
A century and a half later, the word "chauvinist" was adopted by 1960s feminists looking for a better way to describe men who are irrationally convinced of their own superiority, because sometimes "Nazi" just doesn't cut it. The new meaning soon overshadowed the old one, but what hasn't changed is that Chauvin is still a moron.
"Tawdry" (from St. Audrey)
"Tawdry," as in "Why did you say 'tawdry' when you could have said 'tacky' or something, you pretentious shit?"
St. Audrey (or Etheldreda) was the daughter of the king of East Anglia, England, who in the seventh century lived in a monastery and devoted her life to God. God, however, wasn't such a huge fan of Audrey, and she died of a nasty case of the plague. To add insult to injury, the Black Plague created a huge red pulsating growth on her neck, which was said to be divine punishment for the fancy necklaces she wore in her youth.
And for all the churches she destroyed as a giant.
After Audrey died, the locals at the Isle of Ely, where she founded a cathedral, honored her memory by holding an annual fair where showy but inexpensive silk and lace necklaces were sold (known as St. Audrey's lace). We're not sure if the point was to remember St. Audrey by covering imaginary tumors in your neck, mocking God for supposedly punishing his loyal servant for such a silly sin or just making money selling cheap stuff.
Whatever the case, the St. Audrey's lace, shortened to "tawdry lace," was considered popular for about 15 minutes before it fell out of fashion and became a synonym for any cheap, gaudy, poor-quality garment, and that meaning just caught on. Even in death, St. Audrey just couldn't catch a break.
"Boycott" (from Charles Boycott)
"Boycott," as in "You can't go into Walmart without pants? Let's boycott them."
Captain Charles Cunningham Boycott was a 19th century British land agent in charge of managing some Irish farmlands, which at the time consisted of paying Irish workers as little as possible while charging them as much as he could to live there.
"You think this is easy for me? I have a wife and beard to support!"
In 1880, poor weather led to poor harvests, which in turn led to poor tenants who were struggling to pay their rent. Boycott sympathized with their situation by raising their rents, cutting their salaries and finally telling them to gather their things and bugger off. Being evicted in this particular time and place meant almost certain death, but Boycott didn't give much of a shit.
When Boycott tried to evict 11 tenants, the entire community called shenanigans and decided to give him and his family the silent treatment. Workers refused to harvest his crops, postmen refused to deliver his mail, cows refused to give him milk and so on. Since Boycott totally depended on his underpaid Irish workers to keep the farms going, he appealed to the London newspapers to send help and someone to talk to.
Boycott, being farted at from six different angles.
The British ruling class was outraged by Boycott's case, specifically the part where a rich person was being messed with by some Irish upstarts. Fifty men were sent to save Boycott's crops, plus 1,000 soldiers to protect those 50 men from the pissed-off Irish locals (seems about right). After a nine-hour walk to the farm (horses refused to carry them), Boycott greeted the 50 volunteers by immediately putting them to work and charging them for their potatoes.
In the end, the rescue operation proved to be way too expensive to be repeated every time a greedy landowner was shunned by his community, and "boycotting" became a thing.
"Molotov Cocktail" (from Vyacheslav Molotov)
"Molotov cocktail," as in "glass bottle of flammable liquid with a burning rag in the top that rioters throw at soldiers."
Vyacheslav Molotov was a Soviet politician who first took office in 1921 and managed to hang on until 1957. He was Stalin's protege and a freaking machine of international politics. Seriously. Winston Churchill once said of him, "I have never met a human being who more perfectly represented the modern conception of a robot."
But damn did he look pimpin' in a red hat.
In 1939, the Soviets began bombing the shit out of Finland, since those crazy Finns kept declining to hand over their territory to the Soviet Union. This wasn't the most unpopular invasion going on in Europe at the time, but it wasn't exactly well-seen, either.
However, our pal Molotov, then serving as the people's commissar of foreign affairs, had it covered: He claimed on the radio that his country was not bombing anything; they were merely "dropping food" to help the poor, starving Finns. Food that exploded, and that strictly speaking did save the Finns from starving, but only by blowing them to pieces.
"And then the survivors have several hundred pounds of broiled meat, ready to eat!"
In response to these statements, the amused/horrified Finns began calling the clearly non-edible Soviet cluster bombs "Molotov bread baskets" after the Soviet minister.
To repay the Soviets' kindness, the Finns also began greeting incoming tanks with "Molotov cocktails" -- improvised fire bombs consisting of glass bottles filled with explosive substances, which they claimed were just "a drink to go with the food." Because if there's one thing Finland loves more than protecting its land, it's food-based jokes.
They really missed a softball dick joke with this one, though.
Although this type of weapon already existed, the name "Molotov cocktail" stuck from then on, much to the namesake comrade's annoyance.
"Jackanapes" (from William "Jack-a-Napes" de la Pole)
"Jackanapes," as in the old-timey insult. Call somebody one at school or work tomorrow, it will confuse them.
In the 15th century, William de la Pole, first duke of Suffolk, was a well-known British admiral and rich person. He was one of the first merchants to really rise to super-rich status, and as such he managed to piss off every other commoner without royal blood running through their veins who didn't get to mingle with the aristocracy or have their own giant statues made.
"This statue is a memorial to the giant pile of money that paid for it."
Since he was a minister of King Henry VI, de la Pole also shows up in a couple of Shakespeare's plays, and like Shakespeare, he too is responsible for expanding our vocabulary. But not in a good way.
De la Pole and his family used a somewhat pompous coat of arms that included a collar and a chain, which people took as an opportunity to compare him to a chained monkey. Back then, monkeys were commonly (and bizarrely) known as "Jack from Nepal," since most of them were imported from that country and they ... sorta look like Jacks, we guess?
Huh. We would have pegged him as a Mike.
Anyway, de la Pole's detractors nicknamed him "Jack-a-Napes," completely missing the fact that the dude literally had the word "pole" in his name. We can think of at least 15 better pole-related nicknames for the guy. But back to the point: As a testament to de la Pole's popularity, his nickname became a common insult for the English folk.
"Guillotine" (from Dr. Joseph-Ignace Guillotin)
"Guillotine," as in the head-chopping execution machine.
"Dr. Guillotin" sounds like the name of a comic book villain whose power is decapitating people, but in reality he was the exact opposite of that. Joseph-Ignace Guillotin was a French physician and humanitarian during the post-Revolution period who strongly opposed capital punishment.
The original hippie.
Finding it impossible to convince his countrymen that chopping off heads wasn't a nice thing to do, Guillotin resigned himself to at least trying to make the executions a little more humane. At the time, people were either hanged or put to death with axes, which was messy and took a few whacks to get the job done. This was a problem for both the guy lying there with half his neck exposed and whoever was in charge of the executioner's dry-cleaning.
Guillotin proposed a recently invented device (not by him) that would quickly and cleanly cut people's heads off, the then-called "machine that cuts people's heads off." In 1789, during an assembly on capital punishment, Guillotin clumsily tried to convince everyone to adopt this device by stating that "Now, with my machine, I cut your head off in the twinkling of an eye, and you never feel it!" The room erupted in laughter at that sentence, and Guillotin's speech soon went viral. He was mocked in periodicals, and parody songs were written about him by the Weird Als of the day, like the following:
Sung to the tune of "Hot for Teacher."
Eventually, it was decided that Guillotin may have been onto something and the head-cutting device was officially adopted by the French government. However, Guillotin and his family were embarrassed by their ironic association with the machine, so they requested to the government that they change its name -- 45 minutes of solid laughter later, the government said no, so they decided to change theirs instead.
For more help with your SATs, check out 6 Everyday Words With Disturbing Alternate Meanings and 9 Words You've Used Today With Bizarre Criminal Origins.
If you're pressed for time and just looking for a quick fix, then check out The 3 Most Spectacularly Full of Crap 'Experts'.
And stop by LinkSTORM to learn what Wonging the cashier means.
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