Immortality Through Words:

A lawprof friend of mine mentioned to me that he thought that "philandering" stemmed from Philander C. Knox, the late 19th-century and early 20th-century U.S. politician. This reminded me of the many such words said to be created from the names of people -- hooker (supposedly from Gen. Hooker), sideburn (from Gen. Burnside), cardigan (from the Earl of Cardigan, also a military man), crapper (supposedly from the plumber and toilet improver Thomas Crapper), and sandwich (from the Earl of Sandwich).

Here's what the Oxford English Dictionary tells me about these: Sideburn, cardigan, and sandwich, the OED reports, are indeed named (or, as to "sandwich," "said to be named") after the people. Not so for philandering, attested back to the 1700s, and stemming simply from "philo-" and "andro-," "loving or fond of men" (though the OED doesn't report any homosexual connotation). Likewise, the OED reports that "crapper" comes from "crap," which is attested to when Thomas Crapper was ten years old. And "hooker" appears in 1845; the story about the hooker-Hooker connection refers to Hooker's supposed tolerance for prostitute camp followers during the Civil War. It's possible that the term "hooker" was popularized in part by the Hooker story -- I don't know whether this is so -- but it certainly wasn't created as a result of Hooker's actions.

Abomination = Obamanation. Cheap shot? Ya, but I couldn't resist.
11.24.2008 6:14pm
On a more serious note, from


--noun 1. U.S. Politics. the dividing of a state, county, etc., into election districts so as to give one political party a majority in many districts while concentrating the voting strength of the other party into as few districts as possible.

--verb (used with object) 2. U.S. Politics. to subject (a state, county, etc.) to a gerrymander.

1812, Americanism; after E. Gerry (governor of Massachusetts, whose party redistricted the state in 1812) + (sala)mander, from the fancied resemblance of the map of Essex County, Mass., to this animal, after the redistricting
11.24.2008 6:18pm
Dilan Esper (mail) (www):
Is Hooker the World's Oldest Slang Word?
11.24.2008 6:35pm
SNL once had a bit about a British aristocrat unhappy about nothing having been named for him. He was assured, "Don't worry. I'm sure that you will invent something, Lord Dildo."
11.24.2008 6:41pm
Bob White (mail):
Michael Quinion, who World Wide Words weekly mailer I strongly recommend, has addressed the "hooker" question. See here.
11.24.2008 6:46pm
Lurker (mail):
Saturday night live had a priceless skit about this:

It imagines a party attended by the Sandwiches, the Cardigans, the Wilkinsons, and of course ...

Lord and Lady Douchebag
11.24.2008 7:09pm
Mostly nouns, though. Judge Bork can take comfort in the fact that while just about anybody can become a Justice, only a rare few can become verbs.
11.24.2008 7:47pm
Assistant Village Idiot (mail) (www):
Nicolas Chauvin. The Marquis de Sade. William Spooner (my favorite, as I am prone to them myself and must have the same verbal tic.
11.24.2008 8:17pm
Julius 23 (mail):
A classic on the John Montague, Fourth Earl of Sandwich:
11.24.2008 8:47pm
CDR D (mail):
>>>William Spooner (my favorite, as I am prone to them myself and must have the same verbal tic.<<<


I'm a big fan of the Reverend Spooner (1844-1930).

"...a half-warmed fish..."

"...our queer old dean..."

"...hissed my mystery lecture..."

"...Cattleships and Bruisers..."
11.24.2008 8:50pm
Syd Henderson (mail):
The Raglan sleeve is named after another Crimean War commander, Lord Raglan.

Wellingtons are named after you-know-who. He ordered the changes from the older Hessian boot.

Mackintoshes are named after Charles MacIntosh (with a k added). The apple is named for John McIntosh, who discovered them hanging from a tree on his farm.

If we're going to mention the Marquis de Sade, we should also mention Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, for whom masochism is named.
11.24.2008 9:19pm
John Burgess (mail) (www):
Not currently common in American English is the road building technique 'macadam', after Scottish engineer John McAdam. Only part of his name shows up in 'tarmac', however.
11.24.2008 9:43pm
John Burgess (mail) (www):
Oh, and of course, 'Fisking' (after Brit journalist Robert Fisk) is a verb, like unto 'Borking', perhaps even more deserved.

For those unfamiliar with it, it's a line-by-line or paragraph-by-paragraph debunking of a news account that spins more than it informs.
11.24.2008 9:45pm
Sasha Volokh (mail) (www):
"Hooker" isn't anywhere close to being the oldest slang word -- "fuck" (the verb) is attested in the OED as early as 1500 (though I understand it's much older), and "shit" (the noun) as early as 1000... and the list could go on.
11.24.2008 10:38pm
Andy Rozell (mail):
Do all obscenities count as slang words?
11.24.2008 10:46pm

What about Roy Munson?

"These kids nearly got munsoned.."
11.24.2008 11:09pm
Tracy W (mail):
It imagines a party attended by the Sandwiches, the Cardigans, the Wilkinsons, and of course ...

I've heard of sandwiches and cardigans of course, but what's a wilkinson? The only thing I can think of is Wilkinson Sword, the razor makers - is there a corner of the world where wilkinson is the everyday name for a razor?
11.25.2008 3:46am
Let us not forget Lewinski and santorum. But what I find truly impressive is the ability to give name to a new concept. I find it mind-boggling that catch-22 only came into the vernacular through a book written within the past century.
11.25.2008 9:24am
KenB (mail):
Is Hooker the World's Oldest Slang Word?
Admittedly without any specific knowledge, just on general principles I would bet the "world's oldest" slang word would be in some form of Chinese.
11.25.2008 9:26am
Xmas (mail) (www):
I'm fond of the theory that "Hooker" comes from Corlear's Hook. (A red light district in New York which pre-dates the Civil War.)
11.25.2008 9:30am
re: "philanderer", only in modern times would studying the etymology evoke the idea of "homosexual".
11.25.2008 10:14am
Richard Aubrey (mail):
You could achieve immortality by having your name attached to a legal doctrine.
I favor "crummey".
11.25.2008 10:17am
I question the sideburn origin. My understanding is that sideburns were first popularized as a technique for soldiers to avoid burns to the side of the face when using muskets, notably matchlock and flintlocks: "side burns". The fashion spread to Victorian society.

This etymology for "side burns" thus makes as much sense as "Burnside" and greatly predates the civil war Gen. Burnside.
11.25.2008 12:05pm
Dave N (mail):
Richard Aubrey,

My criminal procedure professor shook his head at the idea that Ernesto Miranda was somehow worthy of an AP obituary.
11.25.2008 5:16pm
Lurker (mail):
Re Wilkinsons:

Butler: [ waiting at the door for guests to arrive ] Lord and Lady Wilkinson!

Lord Worcestershire: A marvelous entertainment, Salisbury! These chopped steaks are terrific, especially with this delicious mushroom sauce.

Lord Salisbury: Thank you, Coming from you, Worcestershire, that certainly is a compliment. [ turns to his guests ] Lord and Lady Wilkinson, welcome!

Lord Worcestershire: Tell me, Wilkinson, what the deuce is the purpose of two swords?

Lord Wilkinson: It's simple, really. Let's say you're an an attacker. My first blade straightens you upright, while the second clips you neatly at the ankles.

Lady Wilkinson: And there's Lady Wilkinson, for attacking your opponent's underarms and legs!
11.25.2008 7:03pm
Eugene Volokh (www):
SJE: That's a nice theory, but do you have any specific data to support it? The Oxford English Dictionary isn't perfect, but my presumption would be that it's correct until some pretty strong contrary evidence is provided.
11.25.2008 9:55pm
Tracy W (mail):
Thanks Lurker. It's just a bit odd, I know the brand name but I've never run across anyone calling a razor a wilkinson. A Wilkinson razor, yes, but not just a "wilkinson".
11.26.2008 3:50am
Rich Rostrom (mail):
I find it particularly horrifying that a law prof would not recognize the obvious Greek roots of both the verb and the name, which provide the meaning.
11.26.2008 2:21pm
Re: "fuck" (the verb) is attested in the OED as early as 1500 (though I understand it's much older), and "shit" (the noun) as early as 1000... and the list could go on.

The first has cognates in other Germannic languages, and a suggested cognate in Celtic; and the second is pretty widespread in Germannic, and has a cognate in Greek (skor/skatos) which means the old Indo-Europeans on the steppe were probably saying something like it back when bronze was still hot new technology.
11.27.2008 10:47am