Trans Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften 16. Nr. März 2006

14.1. Re-Shaping Eastern Communities’ Patterns through the European Union Context
Herausgeberin | Editor | Éditeur: Anca Irinel Teleoacă ( "Lower Danube" University, Galati, Romania)

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Eponyms in Politics

Floriana Popescu ("Lower Danube" University, Galati) [BIO] / Carmen Maftei ("Lower Danube" University, Galati)


The present paper aims at providing a lexical interpretation and a tentative classification of the words derived from proper names, irrespective of the language they come from, now they have become part of the English vocabulary. The analysis is of eponyms with special reference to Politics due to the fact that unlike eponyms belonging to other types of scientific discourse which have been investigated by the authors up to the moment of the publication of this approach, the eponyms in Politics share a number of distinct features that need to be further highlighted.


Eponyms represent a considerable percentage of the English vocabular y, particularly due to the fact that one term is used to denominate three elements: a real or mythical person, a personal or geographical name, and finally a newly created word used as a noun, adjective or verb and which, most frequently, reveals a certain kind of relationship with the person or geographical site whose name it borrowed.

The literature of this speciality acknowledges the existence of a huge amount of such terms but few linguists have approached them in detail in order to provide for their complete description. In the 1960s up to the 1980s histories of the English language as well as volumes of lexicology, stylistics and grammars used to deal with ‘words derived from proper nouns’ (Wood 1969, Levitchi 1970), with ‘metaphors’, ‘metonymy’ or ‘synecdoche’ or with ‘conversions’ (Quirk et al. 1985). In the 1990s the term eponym became part of the metalanguage and it was used with reference to proper names transformed to other nouns, or which were adopted as an adjective or even a verb. Eponyms have been interpreted from the perspective of belonging to the general lexical stock or to specialized vocabularies. Few references have been made to the impressive bulk of eponyms which are used in scientific discourse (Hellweg 1995). Consequently, a project was initiated by the authors of the current approach with the purpose of investigating and classifying of eponyms used in scientific terminology. Our approach also aims at proving that eponymy may be considered a highly productive word building process within the scope of scientific discourse in general, or preferably English for specific purposes, [ESP from now on in the present paper] but with a particular interest in eponyms used in politics.

1. The state-of-the-art presentation of eponyms

1.1. Eponyms constituted the object of interest of dictionaries which are based on common language (Currie 1994, Flavell 1995) and which are based on metalanguage (Bleeching 1989, Manser 1993). Histories of the English language also mention in the chapters dedicated to the vocabulary the possibility of the proper nouns to be used as common words (Wood 1969). Scientific tomes dealing with the same lexical transformation were published in the last fifty years, and of these mention is made only of Edwards (1968), Wolk (1980) and McArthur (1996).

1.2. The authors have recorded few attempts at studying eponyms in ESP recently (Maftei, 2000, Lalić, 2004). Some of these conclusions have already been published and they refer to the jargons of physics and applied physics (Popescu and Maftei, 2003), anatomy and physiology (Popescu and Maftei, 2005a, Popescu, 2005), economics (Popescu and Maftei, 2005b), and last but not least, that of chemistry (Maftei 2003).


2. Eponyms in Politics

Politics will be understood here as ‘the art and science of government’ (WEUD 1996:1498), and since politics intermingles with many other fields of activity it is quite difficult to describe a purely political discourse: as fields of activity are interrelated so their lexicons are interrelated. If we consider the origin of political eponyms a first classification should divide them into those coming from remarkable political personalities and those belonging to the political discourse.

Cases were recorded where names of queens, for instance, turned into an element of a compound, Queen Anne’s lace (a common wildflower with a large, lacy white head which is akin to the carrot and can be used as a garden flower). Since this kind of word hardly has any relevance to the study of the political eponyms, they will be only mentioned for their resourcefulness to the English vocabulary seen as a whole. The latter group of eponyms reveals a new lexical aspect: political personalities have offered by their own contribution concepts, laws and, sometimes, words of wisdom which have been included in the English dictionaries as part of the linguistic heritage.

3. A Classification of Eponyms

Based on their structure, McArthur [1996:350] grouped the eponyms into six types: (a) simple eponyms, (b) compounds and attributive constructions, (c) possessives, (d) suffix-based derivatives, (e) clippings and (f) blends.

3.1 Simple Eponyms

The simple eponyms are those proper nouns re-categorized as common nouns accepting article determination and having the plural form, such as: boycott -(n) the practice of boycotting (<after the name of the British land agent, Charles C. Boycott,in County Mayo, Ireland, ostracized in 1880 for refusing to reduce rents). This common noun may also be part of collocations: to impose a boycott, to lift a boycott; it may also behave as a transitive verb: (to) boycott - (vb.) to avoid or prevent trade or dealings with, as a means of intimidation or protest: to boycott the elections.Lynch (< William Lynch, American vigilant) has also produced several lexical contributions (to lynch, lyncher, and lynch law). Some recategorized eponyms are used to refer to persons only, assigning them a peculiar shade of meaning, as is the case with quisling, somebodywho is a traitor to one's country, esp. one who is collaborating with occupying forces; and which is also used in a figurative meaning. The term originates in the name of Vidkun Quisling, a Norwegian army officer, who headed a puppet government during Germany's WW II occupation of Norway and who was executed for treason after Germany's defeat. The word entered the language very quickly after Quisling took office. It almost immediately spawned the offshoot 'to quisle' which exemplifies the loss of the -ing ending, a case of backformation, and the adding of the suffix -e. An example of eponym which has resisted the times is nero, a person resembling Nero, especially in displaying cruelty, tyranny, or profligacy (<Nero Claudius Caesar, Roman emperor A.D. 54-68).

3.2 Derived Eponyms

Some eponyms are the result of suffixation, which acted so as to produce nouns, adjectives and adverbs. The active suffixes in the creation of economic eponyms are -ian, -ism, -ite, and -ist (ically). A higher frequency of occurrence was recorded with the noun- and adjective-forming suffix of Latin origin, -ian, which was part of Rooseveltian(<Franklin D. Roosevelt, 32 nd president of the U.S. or Theodore Roosevelt, 26 th president of the U.S.).

The suffix -ism, which came from Greek to English via Latin, and which involves the adherence to a system or a class of principles as well as a doctrine, theory or cult, also showed considerabe productivity, being part of at least ten derived terms. Terms coming from other languages were adopted by English, to refer to political doctrines or creeds, such as Leninism (< Vladimir Ilych Lenin Ulyanov, 1870-1924, founder of the Russian Communist Party, the first leader of the new USSR, 1917-1924)( WEUD 1996:1101), Marxism (< Karl Heinrich Marx, 1818-1883, German politician and philosopher; founder of historical materialism) ( WEUD 1996: 1181), McCarthyism(<J. R. McCarthy, U.S. politician) is a term to illustrate the use of this suffix. In many other cases -ism reveals its productivity by being added to the same stem which also accepts the suffix -ian, as inBismarckian,Bismarckanism (<Otto Eduard Leopold von Bismarck, 1815 -1898,founder and the first chancellor of the German Empire,( WEUD 1996: 213)

The last suffix recorded as a source of economic eponyms identified in politics is -ite, which produces both nouns and adjectives, such as Leninite.

It is worthwhile mentioning the capability of some proper names to accept several suffixes depending on the ideas whose promoter may have been a political or historical personality or an expert in a peculiar field of activity, politics included. This is the case with Nicolas Chauvin, whose name produced an abstract noun, adjectives and an adverb, chauvinism, chauvinist, chauvinistic, chauvinistically, or with Niccolo di Bernardo Machiavelli,theItalian statesman, out of whose name the following terms have become part of nearly the daily vocabulary, Machiavellian, Machiavellianism, Machiavellism, Machiavellianly.

If we consider the definition of eponymous as the practice of giving ‘one’s name to countries, towns, places, etc. (WNWD 1966:490), then, geographical names will be considered under this division. Geographical names cover names of larger or smaller countries, states as well as names of towns. Names of peaks originate in names of politicians but they are very restricted (the Lenin Peak <Lenin, the Russian leader).

Names of countries include Bolivia (< Simón Bolivar, Venezuelan statesman who led the revolt of South American colonies against Spanish rules who founded Bolivia in 1825) and Columbia (< Christopher Columbus, the Genovese navigator and explorer). Names of smaller countries or provinces include Bessarabia (< Bassarab I of Romania), a region in the southeastern Europe between the Dniester and Prut (WEUD). States which are part of the American federation and which were named after political personalities are North Carolina, South Carolina < King Charles I of England; Virginia, West Virginia < Queen Elisabeth I of England, the “ "Virgin Queen ” ", and Washington < George Washington, the 1 st president of the USA, commander-in-chief of the Continental Army during the American revolution (1732-1799), and many other examples. Names of towns ‘borrowed’ from great political figures are found both in the Anglo-Saxon world, as Cincinnati, Ohio < Cincinnatus, Roman Statesman and in the Latin world as is Alexandria, a town in Romania named after the ruler Alexandru Ghica.

3.3 Compounds

According to McArthur’s pattern, the eponym in compound nouns is the determiner of the common noun. Examples identified to illustrate this category of eponyms are very numerous, since politics has borrowed a considerable amount of terms from numerous domains. Due to their frequency of occurrence they have been grouped into several categories. Thus, they are most frequently encountered in association with (a) ‘doctrine’ or ‘principle’, (b) ‘effect’, (c) ‘act’, ‘plan’ or ‘pact’, (d) ‘poll’ or ‘rating’.

(a) ‘Doctrine’ or ‘Principle’-based compounds

Nixon Doctrine - an approach to Asia that would support its developing nations against attack or subversion with money, advice, equipment and cheers but not with American troops (< after Richard Nixon, 37 th president of the USA)

(b) ‘Effect’-based compounds

Fisher Effect - a theory that nominal interest rates in each country are equal to the required real rate of return to the investor plus compensation for the expected amount of inflation (<after the American political economist Irwin Fisher )

(c) ‘Act’, ‘plan’ or ‘pact’ based compounds

Taft-Hartley Act (of 1947) - an act of Congress which supersedes but continues most of the provisions of the National Labor Relations Act and which, in addition provides for an eighty-day injunction against strikes that endanger public health and safety and bans closed shops, featherbedding, secondary boycotts, jurisdictional strikes and certain other union practices(< named after the U.S. lawyer and political leader Robert A. Taft and David Hartley)

Robinson-Patman Act (of 1936 ) - its purpose was to protect small firms from larger competitors and chain stores by prohibiting sellers from giving bigger discounts to their large customers than their smaller ones unless it could be shown that the discounts were justified by actual cost economies (<named after the British statesman Frederick J. Robinson)

Wagner Act (of 1935) - it enabled unions to grow into extremely large and powerful organizations, also called the National Labor Relations Act (<named after the U.S. politician Robert F. Wagner)

Morris Plan Bank - a private banking organization, formerly common in the U.S., designed primarily to grant small loans to industrial workers (<named after Robert Morris, U.S. financier and statesman)

Morrill Act - an act of congress granting each state 30,000 acres of land for each member it had in Congress, 90% of the gross proceeds of which were to be used for the endowment and maintenance of colleges and universities teaching agricultural and mechanical arts and other subjects (<named after Justin Smith Morrill, congressman and senator from Vermont)

Roosevelt Corollary - a corollary to the Monroe Doctrine, asserting that the U.S. might intervene in the affairs of an American republic threatened with seizure or intervention by a European country (<named after Theodore Roosevelt, 26 th president of the U.S.)

Townshend Acts - acts of the British Parliament in 1767, esp. the act that placed duties on tea, paper, lead, paint, etc. imported into the American colonies (<named after Charles Townshend, English statesman)

(d) ‘Poll’ or ‘rating’-based compounds

Gallup poll - a representative sampling of public opinion awareness concerning a certain issue, (after the name of the U.S. statistician G.H. Gallup)

Hooper rating - a rating of radio and television shows based on a statistical study of the percentage of sets in a sampling that are tuned to a specific program at a given time, also Hooperating (<named after Claude E. Hooper, American statistician)

3.4 Possessives

This category includes compounds consisting of personal names in the ‘s possessive associated with different terms which are qualifiers. In the annex to the paper some of the possessives are presented together with their ‘meanings’.

3.5 Blends

A blend or portmanteau word is a word made by putting together parts of other words. Blends have become so popular in English this century that they now account for a significant proportion of new words, particularly those deriving from commercial trade names or advertising. Examples in case are: Nixonomics (< Nixon + economics) - refers to President Nixon’s economic policies, especially from an opposing political viewpoint; Reaganomics (< Reagan + economics) - used to denote and describe the economic policies of U.S. President Ronald Reagan during the 1980s.

3.6 Slang

Slang, the very informal usage in vocabulary and idiom that is characteristically more metaphorical, playful, elliptical, vivid and ephemeral than ordinary language. Considered below the level of standard educated speech, it is used for well-defined reasons, differentiating people, enriching the language, amusing the superiors, inducing friendliness or intimacy, being only some of them.

Nowadays, slang is regarded with less disapproval than it used to and, therefore these words or phrases are frequently used in business English. Here are only a few examples of eponymic terms in case: nixon - any illegal business or transaction; (< after Richard Nixon, 37 th president of the USA), Jack Ketch - a public executioner or hangman (<named after John Ketch, English executioner noted for brutality), Hobson’s choice - the choice of taking either that which is offered or nothing; the absence of a real choice or alternative (< named after Thomas Hobson). McCoy - the genuine, real thing or person as promised, stated or implied, not a copy or a replacement (usually preceded by the or the real): These documents are worth nothing, but this one is the real McCoy, said to refer to the U.S. famous boxer, Kid McCoy, one-time world welterweight champion, distinguishing him from an obscure or inferior boxer of the same name.


The present paper aimed at providing a lexical interpretation and a tentative classification of the words derived from proper names, irrespective of the language they come from, now they have become part of the English vocabulary. Eponymy may be regarded as a resourceful process of the vocabulary enrichment.

Unlike eponyms belonging to others types of scientific discourse which have been investigated by the authors up to the moment of the publication of this approach, the eponyms in politics share the following features:

Nevertheless, the approach does not aim at making a complete inventory of all the existing eponyms in politics since the abundance of such terms would require a much larger space and since politics is an extremely vivid component of the daily communication, which proves the ever-changing character of this jargon as well as the impossibility of the authors’ being up to date with the most recently created words.

© Floriana Popescu ("Lower Danube" University, Galati) / Carmen Maftei ("Lower Danube" University, Galati)

Annex. Eponyms revealing a possessive pattern

Metzger's Maxim: A “ "government subsidy ” " is getting just some of your own money back.

Anthony's Observations:

  1. Freedom requires every man beware those that share his views.
  2. Exceptions rule.
  3. People, judging an entirely new matter, will be:
    one third in favor
    one third opposed, and
    one third undecided.
  4. President, beware a mood of nostalgia that occurs during your Administration.
  5. Join the Republican Party if you cannot abide Democrats. You will probably loathe Republicans just as much, but there are fewer of them.
  6. The English language has so few cuss words that, much like the flag, they should not be displayed day after day, but kept inside, lovingly rolled up and stored away, to bring forth proudly, unfaded, and effective upon special occasions.

Adam's Admonition: Those who like sausage or political policy should not watch it being made.

Abraham Lincoln's Rumination: Tell the truth and you won't have so much to remember.

Mo Udall's First Law of Politics: If you can’t find something everyone agreed on, it's wrong.

Mo Udall's Second Law of Politics: It's hard to convince people of the first.

Murray's Law: If written correctly, legalese if perfectly incomprehensible.

Hodges' Observation: The problem with government is that it scratches where there ain't no itch.

Van Roy's Postulates:

  1. Government always plays both ends against the taxpayer.
  2. Inflation is a stab in the buck.

Boyle's Observation: A welfare state is one that assumes responsibility for the health, happiness, and general well-being of all its citizens except the taxpayers.

Andrew's Truism: Honesty is almost always the best policy.

Johnson's First Law of Politics: As soon as you're elected, get that " "Honorable " " in front of your name.

George Bernard Shaw's Observation: Those who can - do. Those who cannot - teach.

H. L. Mencken's Corollary: Those you can't teach - administrate. Those who can't administrate - run for office.

Archimedes' Principle of Politics: A light-weight congressman can often be buoyed up by a force equal to the weight of the pork in his barrel.

Kling's Contrast: Statesmen tell you what is true even though it may be unpopular. Politicians tell you what is popular even though it may be untrue.

Dr. Nordstrom's First Rule of Debate: It is difficult to win an argument when your opponent is unencumbered with knowledge of the facts.

Hawkinson's Law: Every clarification breeds new questions.

Kamin's Law: Politicians will always inflate when given the opportunity.

Calvin Coolidge's Comment: We cannot do everything at once, but we can do something at once.

Kamin's Law of Politics: When attempting to predict and forecast microeconomic moves or economic legislation by a politician, never be misled by what he says; instead watch what he does.

H. L. Mencken's Observation: The main trouble with democracy is that the people eventually realize that they can vote themselves the treasury; then you have anarchy.

Parker's Law of Political Statements: The truth of a proposition has nothing to do with its credibility and vice versa.

Jacquin's Postulate on Democratic Governments: No man's life, liberty, or property is safe while the legislature is in session.

Hoffman's Rule: Smile - it makes people wonder what you're thinking.

Ferdinand Lundberg's Law: There is such thing as a " "cheap politician. " "

Pate's Prattle: Bureaucrats are the meat loaf of humanity.

Nowlan's Deduction: Following the path of least resistance is what makes men and rivers crooked.

Sorenson's Law: If you want to make it in politics, go to church regularly.

Doelger's Findings: Politician's political issues are true enough - only their facts have been made up.

Taft's Law: If " "pro " " is the opposite of " "con. " " then " "Progress " " is the opposite of " "Congress. " "

Imhoff's Law: The organization of any bureaucracy is very much like a septic tank - the really big chunks always rise to the top.

Henry's Political Pragmatism: To run for a political office, all it takes is a few bucks, a pretty face, a glib tongue, a church membership, a large family, and absolutely no sense of economics.

Clarke's Law of Revolutionary Ideas: Every revolutionary idea - in science, politics, art, or whatever - evokes three stages of reaction in a hearer:

  1. It is completely impossible - don't waste my time.
  2. It is possible, but it is not worth doing.
  3. I said it was a good idea all along.

Gordon's Law for Politicians: When you get a chance to get any podium - don't rush it, keep smiling, shake as many hands as possible, yell " "John and Mary " " (as many common names as possible), and upon arriving nod several times, grab both sides of the podium, lean forward slowly, look stern, stare at the back of the hall for several moments, etc. The idea is to open your mouth as little as possible.

Justice Douglas' Observation: The right to be left alone is indeed the beginning of all freedom.

Hodghead's Cynicism: A husband (or wife) is a person who sticks with you through troubles you wouldn't have had if you hadn't married him (or her) in the first place.

Hildebrant's Rule: True wealth is not so much having talent, industry, and a bit of luck, as it is having lots of money.

Ellis' Eloquence:

  1. To find a policeman in a hurry, double-park.
  2. Start your own lay-a-way plan... smoke.
  3. If God thought that nudity was O.K., we would have been born naked.

Peers's Possibility: Too many books you can tell by the cover.

Alfred E. Smith's Rule: No matter how thin you slice it, it's still baloney.

Lyndon's Observation: If the first person who answers the phone cannot answer your question, it's a bureaucracy.


Barnhart, C. L., et co., A Dictionary of New English. Longman: Longman. 1973

Edwards, G., Uncumberand Pantaloon: Some words with Stories. London: Bles. 1968

Flavell, L.& R., Dictionary of Word Origins . Cathie Limited. 1995

Hellweg, P. 1995. The Wordsworth Book of Intriguing Words, Hertfordshire: Wordsworth Ltd.

Lalić, G., “ "Eponyms in English ” ", in Romanian Journal of English Studies, Timişoara: Mirton. 2004. pp. 69 - 74

Levitchi, L., Limba engleza contemporana. Lexicologie, Bucuresti: Editura Didactica si Pedagogica. 1970

Maftei,C., “ "Eponyms in E.S.P. ” ", in Studii de limbi şi literaturi moderne, Timişoara: Mirton, 2000. pp.64 - 68

Maftei, C. “ "Eponyms in Chemistry ” " in Mélanges de terminologie et de sémantique, sous la direction d’Anca Gâţă, Galaţi: Academica. 2003. pp.225-32

Manser, H.M., The Wordsworth Dictionary of Eponyms, Hertfordshire: Wordsworth Ltd. 1993

McArthur, T., The Oxford Companion to the English Language. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 1995

Popescu, F., Maftei,C., “ "Eponyms in Physics and Applied Physics  ” ", in Mélanges de terminologie et de sémantique, sous la direction d’Anca Gâţă, Galaţi: Academica. 2003. pp. 208- 24

Popescu, F., “ "Eponyms in Anatomy and Physiology. The Latin Element ” ", in Buletinul Universităţii Petrol-Gaze din Ploeişti. vol. LVII. Seria Filologie No. 1/2005. pp. 154-7

Popescu, F., Maftei,C., “ "Eponyms in Anatomy and Physiology ” ", in Cultural Matrix Reloaded. Seventh International Conference of RSEAS, Galaţi, 8 - 10 October. 2004. Croitoru, E., Praisler, M., Tuchel, D. (eds.), Bucureşti: Editura Didactică şi Pedagogică. 2005a. pp. 174 - 80

Popescu, F., Maftei,C., “ "Eponyms in Economics ” ", in Buletinul Universităţii Petrol-Gaze Ploieşti. vol. LVII. Seria Filologie Nr. 1/2005. pp. 158 - 64

Quirk et al., A Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language, Longman. 1985

* * * Webster’s Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary of the English Language. Gramercy Books (WEUD). 1996

* * * Webster’s New World Dictionary of the American Language. College Edition. Cleveland and New York: The World Publishing Company (WNWD). 1966

Wood, T. F. An Outline History of the English Language, London: Macmillan. 1969

14.1. Re-Shaping Eastern Communities’ Patterns through the European Union Context

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Floriana Popescu ("Lower Danube" University, Galati) / Carmen Maftei ("Lower Danube" University, Galati): Eponyms in Politics. In: TRANS. Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften. No. 16/2005. WWW: ../../../index.htmtrans/16Nr/14_1/popescu16.htm

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