On Captain Boycott
On page 99 of THE STUFF OF THOUGHT, author/Professor Steven Pinker nonchalantly includes "boycott" in a list of eponymous verbs (and mentions that the person who inspired them has been long forgotten). He moves on and I’m frantic.
Boycott? Eponymous? Where’ve I been?
I begin to feel like this might be one of those precious moments when I can actually get my money’s worth from the Oxford English Dictionary (at a steep, just-under $300/year).
I log in and learn of Captain Boycott, an Irish landlord who was the original victim of the treatment we have now come to call the boycott. (And because a person/surname inspired the word, nearly all of the early references to boycotting, boycotts and boycottees were capitalized).
To combine in refusing to hold relations of any kind, social or commercial, public or private, with (a neighbour), on account of political or other differences, so as to punish him for the position he has taken up, or coerce him into abandoning it. The word arose in the autumn of 1880, to describe the action instituted by the Irish Land League towards those who incurred its hostility. It was speedily adopted by the newspapers in nearly every European language (e.g. F. boycotter, Du. boycotten, Ger. boycottiren, Russ. bokottrovat, etc.).
Meanwhile, for an unsteep cost of . . . nothing, I go to Wikipedia, which I have used maybe three times in my life, and find a far more thorough explanation of the history of Boycott, and I’m feeling profoundly underserved by the OED (not a new feeling, by the way).
Captain Charles Cunningham Boycott (1832-1897) was his full name, and although the term wasn’t coined until the action against him (which worked, by the way, resulting in him fleeing Ireland for England), the actions we have come to associate with the boycott date back to at least 1830.
To add further humiliation to my dearth of knowledge about the boycott, a film called CAPTAIN BOYCOTT was made in 1947 and tells the whole flippin’ story!