Wordmaster: galvanize

The word galvanize is derived from a person’s name:  Luigi Galvani, a physician and physicist of Bologna. It’s an example of an eponym (a word that derives from the name of a person).

Galvani observed that the legs of a frog would twitch when brought into contact with certain metals. The twitching was the result of a kind of animal electricity—hence galvanize, “to stimulate into sudden action”.

Other eponyms include:

  • cardigan from James Thomas Brudenell, seventh Earl of Cardigan (1797-1868);
  • Hoover (i.e., a vacuum cleaner) from W.H. Hoover (1849-1932);
  • mackintosh from Charles M. Macintosh (1766-1843);
  • sandwich from John Montagu, fourth Earl of Sandwich; and
  • silhouette from Étienne de Silhouette (1709-67).

Source:  The Penguin Wordmaster Dictionary, Martin Manser and Nigel Turton, eds., 1987.

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1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Bridgett
    Oct 30, 2009 @ 08:57:47

    I love eponyms. I didn’t know cardigan. Isn’t hooligan one?

    Reply

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