Asheville Daily Planet, April 2018
I don’t think most of us want to be famous. I don’t think we envy – I hate this word – celebrities.
Sure, we enjoy being called by name by a bank teller or known as having a lovely garden. It’s like the theme to “Cheers”: “Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name.”
But there are people who really do seek it. They go to Hollywood and New York, and some go to bizarre lengths– like going on “Family Feud” or running for public office.
Time scrubs away fame, anyway. I’m guessing that a majority of my readers here cannot name Bob Dole’s running mate in 1996. And Jack Kemp was a great pro quarterback and member of Congress.
No, there’s only one way to gain real fame. It cannot be sought after or achieved. It has to be bestowed. True fame, you see, comes only when a name becomes part of the language. You’ve arrived when your name is used as a common noun.
Henry Shrapnel invented an artillery shell that exploded in the air and showers the enemy with deadly pellets. In a twist of fate, the fragments got his name, not the artillery shell itself. If the reverse had been true, Shrapnel would have remained a proper noun, like poor Gaston Glock and Richard Jordan Gatling, whose names are capitalized.
Charles Cunningham Boycott was the land agent for an absentee English earl in Ireland in 1880, when the earl ordered widespread evictions over rents. The locals organized against Boycott. All workers in the earl’s house and all farm laborers resigned, and shopkeepers wouldn’t sell to him. Mail delivery was cut off. Newspapers started using “boycott” as a verb almost immediately. C.C. Boycott was in the wrong job in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Charles Lynch headed a county court during the American Revolution. Tories were commonly imprisoned, but Lynch reasoned that in wartime, juries were unnecessary.
Texas land baron Sam Maverick received 400 head of cattle in payment of a debt. Breaking tradition, he didn’t bother to brand them, and they came to be known as “mavericks.” That meaning has extended to unorthodox people.
These men rest in lower-case peace. So do Nicolas Chauvin (chauvinist), Ignacio “Nacho” Anaya, James Watt, Luigi Galvani (galvanize), John Duns Scotus (dunce), Marquis de Sade (sadistic). By contrast, Charles Ponzi , Sylvester Graham (cracker) and John. B. Stetson still carry the capital-letter millstone around their names.
Now our curiosity kicks in, doesn’t it? We can’t be content that these past-tense people were awarded permanent fame in our present-tense language. We want to sneak a peek at the new words included in future updates of the Oxford English Dictionary (OED). And of course the entries we will look for are the men history will call “The Calamitrio”: Donald Trump, Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell.
I think we would see in our peek at OED updates that “Trump” never appears as a new listing, and for that, I blame his grandfather. It was Gramps who ditched the family’s original name, Drumpf. “Trump” is an existing English word, and existing definitions don’t yield easily – except “awesome.”
We would see that common-noun “ryan” appears first in the 2020 OED update. An article explains that it slid into English beside “skunk” and pretty much replaced “weasel.” It has a cowardly, cringing connotation. The example cited: “We believed he would be tough in negotiations, but he turned out to be a ryan.”
And we would actually learn through the OED updates that history will view Mitch McConnell, in his last years as GOP Senate leader, as a zero, a non-player. His eponym draws its meaning from the eight years of Barack Obama. A “mccnnell” will be described as an obstruction, wherever one occurs. The exmple given: “His intense abdomenal pain turned out to be a full-blown bowel mcconnell.”