An encyclopedia of linguistic biographies: the witty, illustrated stories of the Earl of Sandwich, Charles Boycott, and other historical figures better known as words than people. Eponymous, adj. Giving one's name to a person, place, or thing. Anonymous, adj. Anonymous. Anonyponymous, adj. Anonymous and eponymous. The Earl of Sandwich, fond of salted beef and paired slices of toast, found a novel way to eat them all together. Etienne de Silhouette, a former French finance minister, was so notoriously cheap that his name became a byword for chintzy practices--such as substituting a darkened outline for a proper painted portrait. Both bequeathed their names to the language, but neither man is remembered. In this clever and funny book, John Bemelmans Marciano illuminates the lives of these anonyponymous persons. A kind of encyclopedia of linguistic biographies, the book is arranged alphabetically, giving the stories of everyone from Abu "algorithm" Al-Khwarizmi to Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin. Along with them you'll find the likes of Harry Shrapnel, Joseph-Ignace Guillotine, and many other people whose vernacular legacies have long outlived their memory. Accented by amusing line portraits and short etymological essays on subjects like "superhero eponyms," Anonyponymous is both a compendium of trivia and a window into the fascinating world of etymology. Carefully curated and unfailingly witty, this book is both a fantastic gift for language lovers and a true pleasure to read.
The text is enhanced by clever line drawings (again, very much in the tradition of, say, the illustrations for The Decline and Fall of Practically Everybody)
(Side note: Another reviewer has stated that the book contains factual errors in a few entries, but the examples provided are not really errors but differences in interpretation. There is also a reference to "bant" on page 135.)
Having said that, many of the good bits are hidden in endnotes, making the process of reading Anonyponymous a frustrating one. I found myself flipping back and forth with nearly every page! And, in nearly every case, the notes were material that should have been incorporated into the main body of the text. Worse, the proper citations that ought to have appeared at the end of the book are absent. Given that the author mostly glossed over any controversy about the words' origins, both these shortcomings are regrettable. Finally, many of the 152 pages in this little book are taken up by illustrations that add nothing to the text, and the space could have been more profitably used by an index.
In short, Anonyponymous is an entertaining trifle, but nothing more. I do recommend it as (in the author's words) "crapper material", but look elsewhere if you want a scholarly treatment of the subject.
A quick read, or a nice book to have around to dip into here and there, Marciano keeps it on the light side, with just enough humor thrown in. Personally, I'd have liked for this book to contain twice as many entries, and, whenever possible, even more about the "forgotton people behind everyday words".
Marciano has a breezy and straightforward style – several of his previous books were for children – and the book has no pretensions beyond being entertaining to dip into. Put it in the guest bedroom when you’re through with it.
These people had words named after them, words called eponyms. Some of these people I never heard of: Dr. Guillotin, Candido Jacuzzi, Apollo Syphilus, and Allesandro Volta. Yet you and I are familiar with their eponyms.
I enjoyed reading this book. I think it will provide amusement to the average reader as well as provide a little bit of trivia behind some of the words in our vocabularies.
The only problem I see with the book is that its price might send it to the remainder table rather quickly. It will be a tough sell at $18.00.
This book covers the origin of several words that are commonplace in the English language, but originally owed their start to being part of someone's name. Most people are aware of the Earl of Sandwich and his relationship to the food that bears his name, Mr. Crapper and his relationship to the toilet, and the word sadism as coming from Marquis de Sade. What about the pair of pants you are wearing? The word "pants" (originally Pantaloon) were named for Pantaleon, a physician. Shrapnel was named for Henry Shrapnel, the inventor of an exploding cannonball. You can read more about the origin of these words and many more by reading this book.
"Anonyponymous" is an entertaining read, although rather short, and is about the perfect size as a "stocking stuffer" for the holiday season.
As a self-confessed pedant, I found a couple of problems with the book. First, the entry on cereal. The linking of Kellogg to the origin of cereal seems a little thin. Since "cereal" was being used to refer to edible grains since at least 1832 (per the OED), extending the name to something formed of cereal would seem a natural. The boosterism of flooding one's lower intestine with large amounts of water, let alone yogurt, also seems oddly misplaced, particularly as neither have been found by medical science to be of any particular benefit except in cases of impaction. It was a rather odd thing to find in a book dealing with etymology.
Second was the entry on Thomas Crapper. The author states, "It does seem fair to question, however, just how a plumbing-fixtures manufacturer came by so serendipitous a surname." There really is no question. Thomas Crapper was baptized Sept. 28, 1836 with that name. No mystery there.
Thirdly was hooligan. The author states that the word comes from a London bouncer named Patrick Hooligan. The OED states, "[Origin unascertained. The word first appears in print in daily newspaper police- court reports in the summer of 1898. Several accounts of the rise of the word, purporting to be based on first-hand evidence, attribute it to a misunderstanding or perversion of Hooley or Hooley's gang, but no positive confirmation of this has been discovered. The name Hooligan figured in a music-hall song of the eighteen-nineties, which described the doings of a rowdy Irish family, and a comic Irish character of the name appeared in a series of adventures in Funny Folks.] "
There are a couple of similar sorts of entries and at least one editing error: on page 121, referring to "banting" (dieting), he says, "The verb, sadly, is obsolete today even in British English, though not quite obsolete all together. (see page 135)" There is no entry on "banting" on page 135. Take heart, Mr. Marciano, the word will never die as long as there are those of us who love Miss Marple. The word appears in at least one of the short stories from, "The Tuesday Club Murders".
All in all a fairly entertaining, but flawed book. The inaccuracies make me suspicious of all the entries; it's hard to really enjoy a book when you feel you have to double-check every entry just to be sure.
Edited to add: at $18 in hardcover for 144 pages not counting the footnotes (less than an hour's worth of reading), I'd say the book is over-priced.
I picked it up at the library knowing this, as I was in the mood for something familiar and light, with a language bent. I came away with a sort of confused feeling, though. While the book did satisfy my expectations for it (and they weren't very high, I must say), there was something about Marciano's writing style that just didn't work for me. To sum it up, I think that it is trying too hard to be modern and slangy. It was like reading a series of Wikipedia pages that had been edited by some Something Awful goons, and then halfheartedly polished by an editor into something that wouldn't be too incomprehensible for the average person who isn't intimately familiar with internet culture.
There are a lot of jokes in the definitions of the words before the anecdotes that reminded me a bit of the Devil's Dictionary (or, at least, riffs on it), but they didn't really match the more serious tone the entries - except when those same entries had random bits of internet slang, such as "jumping the shark". There was also a casual tone that felt like it was struggling to refrain from cursing, except when a "sh*t" or "f*ck" escaped - a bit like a young person who regularly peppers their speech with "f*ck" trying to clean their language up while in a more formal setting.
I suppose, overall, the whole book came across as awkward to me, and it didn't really tread any new ground on the subject, either. I'd say rather than buying the book, one should just start from the Wikipedia page on eponyms and spend a few hours (days?) reading.
For what it's worth, I found the first appendix the most intriguing part of the book, and I would like to find one that explores the topic more thoroughly. These four pages talk about certain eponyms and their adoption (or lack thereof) in different languages.
Certainly good filler reading for those little moments here and there during the day when you need a few minutes quick diversion!
Since I have a fair sized collection of etymology books, I have to admit that I was not expecting to acquire any really new information from this slim volume, but I was pleasantly surprised. The story of "to curry favor" was new to me, as were the tales of (among others) "procrustian", "yente", and "Ritzy".
Anonyponymous is definitely a nice starter book for those interested in our endlessly fascinating language, but it has enough gems in it to make it a worthwhile addition to any word lover's library.
The twist here is that each entry, surprisingly or not, originates with the name of an individual. I was aware that Silhouette, Boycott and Guillotine were figures of history, but I was unaware of the personalities behind the jacuzzi, the gardenia, syphilis, quisling and paparazzi.
As with the Earl's sandwich, it's easy to digest this dashingly-illustrated small book in small bites of time. A section of notes provides insight into some sources and controversies. Sadly missing are a table of contents or an index as though most entries are alphabetized, the anecdotes and inserts cover a broader array of subjects.