NPR–Unlikely Word Origins Defined In 'Anonyponymous'

You might know that the tantalizing combination of peanut butter and jelly you’re eating between two slices of bread was named after a certain Earl of Sandwich, but how many other words that we use every day are named after real people?

How about galvanize? Silhouette? Leotard?

These words ”” called eponyms ”” and many more fill a new book called Anonyponymous: The Forgotten People Behind Everyday Words, written by John Bemelmans Marciano.

Some of the people who donated their names to history did it by accident.

“There was a woman named Mary Frisbie who made pies in Connecticut,” Marciano tells Renee Montagne. “Students would throw around her pie plates after they had finished her pies, and kind of like you would say, ‘Incoming!’ they would say, ‘Frisbie!’ just to give people the heads-up that there was something spinning and flying coming at their head.”

I caught this on the morning podcast. Please listen to it all–it is a delight (7 minutes, 20 seconds).


Posted in * Culture-Watch, * General Interest, Books, History

6 comments on “NPR–Unlikely Word Origins Defined In 'Anonyponymous'

  1. Bart Hall (Kansas, USA) says:

    The early manufactured ‘frisbees’ were actually called Pluto Platters, and what makes them work so well is the angle of the slope on the outer third. Back in the early ’50s UFOs were a popular deal, and the Pluto Platter riffed on that theme, right down to portholes on the central bump, which was designed to look like the cabin of a UFO. Mine was blue, and I got in about 1953 or ’54.

    Having grown up near New Haven and Bridgeport (where the Frisbie Pie people were located until the late ’50s) we all called them Frisbies in imitation of the Yalies with whom the actual pie plates (and their original contents) were extremely popular.

    By the early ’60s those of us in our high school were playing a version of what became Ultimate Frisbee. Even in January we would be allowed to play it outside in preference to basketball, indoors, which we all detested. At that point the game was basically a rugby-football hybrid, played with the plastic discs, and at the time it was called Nurndy. You would “wopple off” rather than kick off, and the game would be generally recognisable today [i]except[/i] it tended to be an enthusiastic contact sport, which Ultimate most decidedly is not. We were also much less inclined (as it were) to “lay out” for a catch, owing to the simple expediency that the ground was frozen solid.

  2. Kendall Harmon says:

    I loved the pluto platters section–had no idea frisbees originally had that name. Too funny.

  3. Clueless says:

    we called them “flying saucers” in 3rd grade. In 6th grade I moved to a different school and when asked “what was that?” when a “pluto platter” went passed the school room window replied “a flying saucer” while everybody else said “a frisbee”. Needless to say I was ribbed on being a UFOlogist for the rest of the day.
    Oh well.

  4. the snarkster says:

    I seem to remember a story about the invention of the flush toilet by Queen Victoria’s Royal Plumber. His name? Sir Thomas Crapper.

    the snarkster™

  5. Scott K says:

    Unfortunately Snarkster that’s not *quite* true:

  6. Kendall Harmon says:

    Who knew silhouette was someone’s name? I didn’t.