Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Further etymological trivia

Continuing along the same lines as previously, I inevitably found two more words derived from French surnames. One, which I had almost forgotten because it seemed too easy, is of course "guillotine" (Joseph-Ignace Guillotin) and the other, whose origin is new to me: "silhouette" (Etienne de Silhouette). As you can read in the OED, the exact story on how the name became the word isn't settled:

From the name of Étienne de Silhouette (1709-67), a French author and politician. According to the usual account, which is that given by Mercier Tableau de Paris 147, the name was intended to ridicule the petty economies introduced by Silhouette while holding the office of Controller-general in 1759, but Hatzfeld & Darmesteter take it to refer to his brief tenure of that office. Littré, however, also quotes a statement that Silhouette himself made outline portraits with which he decorated the walls of his château at Bry-sur-Marne.

Another member of that subclass of words derived from fictional character names is "paparazzi", from the character named "Paparazzo" in Fellini's La Dolce Vita. If one looks back to mythology, one can find a host of such words, from "titanic", "odyssey", "saturnine", and on and on.

Curiously, "guy" as a generic term for a male person seems to derive from Guy Fawkes himself, but this will require further investigation. Similar work will have to be done to pin down the origin of "cabal", which either gives you five names for the price of one, or just derives from "kabbalah"; I suppose it could be both as well.


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