or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Monday, April 17, 2006


An eponym is a noun or noun phrase to which some person, real or fictional, has generously donated his or her name: the unit of measurement known as the angstrom, for example, or the gardenia. There are rules which govern the formation of such words: in the spirit of the English language's make-it-up-as-you-go-along nature, they aren't necessarily hard-and-fast rules--someone could probably find an exception to each of them--but they're pretty good guidelines.

1) A last name which becomes possessive as part of a phrase is left capitalized: "Hansen's disease", "Pascal's wager", "Hobson's choice".

2) A last name which stands on its own, or which becomes part of a compound noun, loses the capitalization: , "volt", "ampere", "mason jar", "bloomers", "quisling". ("Triple Axel" is rendered either way: the smart money is on its losing the capital "A" over time.)

3) Any name which receives a suffix to become a botanical or scientific term loses its capitalization: "fuchsia", "einsteinium".

4) A first name within a compound noun retains its capitalization: "lazy Susan", "lucky Pierre".

5) A common noun created from the full name of a person retains all its capitalization: "Mae West", "John Hancock".

It's this fifth rule, if it is a rule, that was called to mind when I read the generally impeccable Twisty Faster's I Blame The Patriarchy this morning:

Look, I get that this is all supposed to be ironic riffing on vintage iconographic kitsch (for example, there’s a trailer trash team called the Honky Tonk Heartbreakers led by one Loosetooth Lulu; their uniform is daisy dukes). I get that a “bout” is really a Bakelite armature from which loosely dangles the vaguely scripted melodrama of a fantasy Bad Girl rumble. I get that it’s comical when fake bad girls sock each other.

She's a terrific writer, but I am forced to take exception to "daisy dukes". I had to read the damned sentence three times before I understood that she had meant to say "Daisy Dukes". The trouble is that "daisy" and "dukes" are both common, and therefore lower-case, nouns, and I assumed that they were being used in this sense, somehow, even though I couldn't extract any meaning from them. Then I realized that the whole thing, capitalized, was a (singular) noun that meant "extremely short cut-off denim shorts".

And this is why we have rules.


Blogger Frank said...

I always wondered just who the lucky Pierre in question was.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006 1:09:00 AM  
Blogger pyramus said...

Or, for that matter, who Susan was.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006 6:00:00 AM  

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