Eponymous

Posted by Mike

Last night I was with a group of friends waiting for a table in a restaurant. One of the guys was talking, and he referred to an eponymous something. I jumped in and said “What does that mean? I seem to see that word all the time in magazine articles, have looked it up, but always forget what it means the next time I see it.” It is true that I seem to see eponymous at least weekly in a news or some other kind of magazine. However, what’s really striking about the incident at the restaurant is how real it all was, how current, yet it occurred in a dream. It’s true, though; maybe you too have run up against eponymous recently – and perhaps like me haven’t learned it yet?

Last year it was vet or vetting. People would say to me, “Where did that word come from? What does it mean? I’ve never heard it?” I did find it in the American Heritage Dictionary (AHD). They define it as “to examine or appraise expertly.” My New Oxford American Dictionary (NOAD) advises that it means “make a careful and critical examination of (something).” And “investigate (someone) thoroughly, esp. in order to ensure that they are suitable for a job requiring secrecy, loyalty, or trustworthiness.” Yes, it appears to be an abbreviation of veterinarian. My impression is that the British have been using “vet,” “vetted,” and “vetting” for some time, maybe back to the 19th century.

I’m reading a book on international law, Lawless World, by Philippe Sands. It’s really interesting. He recounts the development of international law, especially since 1950 and recent developments, and discusses legal issues related to the Guantanamo detainees. On page 130 he writes, “There is no obligation for ICSID awards to be made public, although often they [are made public]…as samizdat.” When I saw that word it had a vague familiarity, but I couldn’t even guess what it meant. Looking it up, I said Ah hah! Yes, it was used in the late Cold War and means “The secret publication and distribution of government-banned literature in the U.S.S.R” (AHD). I then remembered having seen it from time to time during those years. It’s from the Russian, “sam+izdat”, self+to publish.

I guess that all new words that make their way into our vocabularies are useful, or they wouldn’t be used. But some do seem rather silly and pretentious – like eponymous. Eponymous means, “Of, relating to, or constituting an eponym” (AHD). Was that helpful? No? Then – the NOAD advises that eponymous is “giving their name to something: the eponymous hero of the novel.” Like, St. Francis is the eponym of San Francisco; in a sense, his name was his eponymous gift to the city. Eponym was coined in England in the 19th century, and is from the Greek “epi +onoma”  = upon+name.

I woke up this morning dreaming about having saved two people from drowning and then being in the emergency room of a mental health facility helping to admit these two people to a psychiatric unit. That dream seemed pretty real too. It was good also that I played a positive role in the whole affair.

I don’t think there’s anything here that would negatively affect any vetting of me. It’s certainly not samizdat. And I’m not the eponymous hero of a novel, like Tom Jones, or of even a short story! Have a nice day.

“It is of interest to note that while some dolphins are reported to have learned English – up to fifty words used in correct context – no human being is reported to have learned Dolphinese.”    –   Carl Sagan (1934-1996)

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