“What is in a name …”


The word maverick, as a noun, means a nonconformist or an odd person, a rebel.  Its etymology is interesting.  Cattle–raising was an important economic practice in Texas, US during the nineteenth century. Farmers owned hundreds of cattle–head each. Confusion and dispute arose everyday in identifying the cattle by the owners after grazing the cattle. To solve this problem, the cattle owners started branding their cattle with their initials or some other symbols. Samuel A Maverick (1803 – 70) was a rich cattle owner and a lawer.  He refused to brand his cattle. This behaviour of Maverick became noteworthy among  the Americans and anyone who had a sense of  individualism was called  a  maverick, first in informal speech and then from 1886 in formal writing.  Now this eponym means unorthodox or an independent  person.  A maverick does not abide by rules. The words ‘nonconformist’, ‘rebel’ and ‘radical’ are its synonyms.  It also means unbranded range animal.  In current English usage,  an intellectual artist or a politician who takes an  independent stand apart from his or her associates is referred to as a maverick.


                                                         “What is in a name …”


The word ‘silhouette’ means a mere outline of an object, lacking the finer details.  It is an eponym of Etienne de Silhouette, a French finance minister.  In 1759, France  faced  a severe economic crisis and to tide over this crisis,  Silhouette imposed several restrictions on expenditure by the government and the wealthy.  His sanctions ensured expenditure only on the bearest needs,  cutting out extravagance.  Consequently, the word silhouette was adopted in the French and then in the English language to denote the outline of something. Now, in the art parlance, this means the dark outline or shadow in profile against lighter background.  Portraits are represented in  some artwork in profile showing the outline, usually cut from paper or drawn in black colour on white.  Silhouette also describes the shape of a person’s body or the shape created  by wearing clothing of a particular cheap style.  The silhouette art has many practical applications; it is used for drawing traffic signs, pictures of monuments and drawing maps.  It is applied for denoting trees, animals and insects in books. In forensic science, silhouettes are used to identify criminals, skulls and weapons.  In journalism, some individuals opt to be videotaped in silhouette during interviews by masking their facial features and thus protect their anonymity; a dubbed voice is used instead of the original voice.



                                                      “What is in a name …”


The word ‘chauvinism’ originally meant exaggerated or aggressive patriotism.  Now, it is used to denote also a few other characteristics of persons, with excessive or prejudiced support or loyalty for something.  For example, a  man who staunchly believes in the superiority of the male over the female is described as a male chauvinist.  The word ‘chauvin’  has been derived from the name of the French General Nicholas Chauvin. He was a brave soldier, who fought the Napoleonic war.  He, during  the rest of his life showed excessive devotion to Napoleon and  talked   aggressively and obsessively about the war, the greatness of his native France, though, not many of his fellow countrymen fully agreed with him.  His nature was  popularized in France in 1831, through a satirical play,  ‘La Cocarde  Tricolore’ directed by Cognimard’s Vaudiville.  Then, the word ‘chauvinism’ came into common usage in English.  In 1970, this connotation was extended to sexism, especially to connote male superiority or partisonship.  `This term became handy to feminists to condemn arrogant egotistic males in society.  The phrase ‘female chauvism’ is occasionally used in informal speech and writing.  Ariel Levy, an American writer authored a book titled, ‘Female Chauvinist Pigs’ to satire young American women who replicate male chauvinists and behave as sexist stereotypes.

The words, ‘bigot’ and ‘jingoist’, are two other nouns synonymous with ‘chauvinist’.



                                                          “What is in a name …”


The word ‘procrustean’ is an adjective meaning ‘forced conformity’.  For example, if an educational system forces only mediocrity for all the students, then, it is said to be procrustean in nature.  This word has been derived from the name Procrustes, a Greek mythological character.  He was a host who kept a house by the side of a highway where he offered hospitality to travelers.  The guests were given a good meal, and then a very special iron bed for sleep.  When the guest was fast asleep,   Procrustes assumed his monstrous form and  checked whether the length of the body of the guest matched the length of the bed.  If the guest was short for the bed, procrustes  stretched the body and if long, he chopped off the legs to match the  length of the bed.  Invariably, in this process, the guest died. Thus procrustes mercilessly applied the ‘one–size–fits–all’ principle on his guests.

Now, in the English language usage, the adjective procrustean implies mindless conformity  or inflexibility, marked by arbitrary, often ruthless disregard of individual differences.



                                                         “What is in a name …”

                                                                 Peach Melba

Peach Melba is an ice cream-based dessert served in star-hotels all over the world.  It is a classic and much-loved item, by both children and adults.  This dessert is named in honour of the Australian actress – singer – soprano, Dame Nellie Melba (1861 -1931).  In 1892, Melba was performing in Wagner’s  Opera, ‘Lohengrin’ at Covent Garden, City  of Westminster, London.  The Duke of Orleans gave a dinner party to celebrate her singing triumph. For this occasion, the French chef Auguste Escoffier at the Savoy Hotel, London created a new dessert.  He displayed it as an ice sculpture of  a swan, which bird was featured in the opera performed by Melba. The swan carried peaches which rested on a bed of vanilla ice cream topped with spun sugar.   Melba and the other guests liked it ravely, and its taste and novelty became a talk of the city.  Subsequently, this delicious dessert became popular among diners, and hotels all over the world started offering it in their menus. In 1900, Escoffier created a new version of the peach melba for the inauguration of Carlton Hotel; he  topped the peaches with raspberry.  Now, several mouth-watering versions of peach melba are prepared in hotels to gratify the fancy of gourmets.



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