Everyday Words Inspired by Real People

The English language is really anything but English: it’s actually a melting pot of words that have been borrowed from several languages including Latin, French and German. In some instances, these words originated not from another culture, but real people who, for one reason or another, left such an impact that their very names became embedded in our vocabulary. This is known as an eponym, and below are five examples that will totally blow your mind. 

1. Nachos

Just about everyone’s heard of the deliciousness that is nachos, but very few know of how it came to be. Well its origins can be traced back to the year 1943, when a maitre d’hotel or head waiter named Ignacio Anaya Garcia was forced to put together a snack for his army wives guests. With the chef nowhere to be found, Garcia threw together some tortilla chips, a few slices of jalapenos and some melted Wisconsin cheese and served it up. The women absolutely loved it, and when asked what it was called he replied with “Nachos Espaciales,” after his nickname “Nacho.”

2. Leotard

The leotard is the unofficial garment that is donned by gymnasts, acrobats and dancers alike, though this wasn’t always the case. The credit for this ingenious uniform goes to none other than Jules Léotard, a French acrobat who joined Cirque Napoleon after ditching his original plans to study law. Léotard quickly developed the perfect garment which he called the maillot, that not only outlined his athletic physique but also allowed him to move fluidly. But the garment only came to share Léotard’s name some time following his sudden and tragic death in 1870.

3. Shrapnel

This one is linked to a British army officer named Henry Shrapnel who, in the 1780s, invested his time and money into creating a hollow cannonball filled with lead shot that was designed to burst in mi-air using a delayed-action fuse. At first, the British army wasn’t too eager about it, but they later adopted a revised version of Shrapnel’s projection in 1803, that utilized an elongated instead of the original spherical one. Although this projectile has now fallen out of favor, the word shrapnel is now associated with any kind of bomb or shell fragment that is propelled by an explosion.

4. Miranda Rights

The backstory of the Miranda rights goes like this: his name was Ernesto Miranda, a 23-year-old Mexican immigrant who was arrested for kidnapping, among other things. Upon being identified in a lineup, Miranda admitted his wrongdoings and was charged accordingly. However, his lawyers argued that the confession should have been inadmissible in court since Miranda was unaware of his rights against self-incrimination. The Arizona court agreed, but then his lawyers took the matter to the Supreme Court who, in 1966, in a vote of 5-4, concluded that the police must make the suspect aware of their rights. Basically what you hear in any crime show as the cop is arresting the suspect.

5. Guy

Today, the word “guy” is a neutral and harmless word that refers to any regular man. But its original meaning was more on the negative side thanks to the failed Gunpowder Plot of 1605. Although Guy Fawkes wasn’t the mastermind, he certainly became the face of it, to the point that the British started burning effigies of him on Bonfire Night in celebration of the failed plot. Those effigies were so appropriately called “guys” then the name was slowly attached to regular people, usually beggars. The negative meaning remained so until American adopted it.

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