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GRE Vocab Wednesday – Eponyms: What’s in a Name?


This word was originally going to be used as part of the introduction. I realized, though, that it might need defining itself. So here it is: an eponym is a word derived from a person’s name. For instance, the capital of the United States, Washington D.C., is named after George Washington. Eponyms cover quite an array of words from pompadour (a hairstyle named after a French noblewoman) to boycott (Captain Boycott led to Ireland boycotting British goods). The word eponymous is simply the adjective form of eponym. Alas, there was never an Earl of Eponym.



Ned Ludd was a demented child who was often seen by townsfolk breaking things (oftentimes objects from his own home). He became a local legend so that when 15 years later workers were seen smashing new factory equipment outside textile mills the connection between the two wasn’t much of a leap. The workers, who became known as Luddites, were protesting the incursion of technology onto work that they had for decades been doing by hand. Thus, fearing their own obsolescence, the workers took to the streets breaking factory equipment.

Today, a Luddite is anybody who is strongly opposed to technological change. It could be an uncle who refuses to use email or any form of electronic communication; it could describe somebody who continues to listen to cassette tapes. Indeed, it can describe an entire community. The Amish, a religious group in northeastern part of the United States, strive to maintain a life mostly free of technology conveniences.



Draco was a 7th century Athenian lawmaker who reversed centuries of blood vendettas with a system of law. Though that might seem to put him a positive light, we remember him today not so much for the laws but for the severity of the punishment that result from the breaking of those laws. For instance, stealing a head of cabbage resulted in the death penalty. Today, draconian is used to describe any punitive response that is far too harsh given the offence.



Thomas Bowdlerize was a preacher so persnickety that he seemed to take offense at everything, including the works of William Shakespeare. Not that Shakespeare had the sensibilities of a Sunday school girl; his work is liberally sprinkled with scatological references (i.e., potty humor). In order to make the books amenable to the moral palates of women and children, Thomas Bowdler released the complete works of William Shakespeare with all the bad parts blacked out.

Today, bowdlerize means to remove objectionable material but in such a way that the resulting material loses some of its force. Think of an Eddie Murphy comedic routine with beeps. It just isn’t the same (thanks Mr. Bowdler!).


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One Response to GRE Vocab Wednesday – Eponyms: What’s in a Name?

  1. Azarafza September 16, 2015 at 12:29 pm #

    Hi Chris,

    You can add to this sundry of eponyms, the fancy, quirky word I just encountered last night while watching a classical movie (cause I’m a movie buff) named “The front page”, a masterpiece by one of the most greatest and venerable directors in the Hollywood’s history, Billy Wilder. It is the word “Palooka” used by Jack Lemmon, while he was venturing to Pheladelphia. He dropped the word to a conniving, con newspaper, acted by Walter Matthau, who was his boss and did everything to prevent Lemmon leaving the town. I got curious, and looked it up in “”; it turns out that this word is another eponyms, maybe worth learning or at least being familiar with. Joe Paloka was an comic strip fighter who was not a successful one, only a looser, second-rate boxer, who didn’t like fighting. It seems that “Palooka” is a poseur one whose work never prospers. Am I right?

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