Saturday, May 3, 2003

Gifts from writers

POLLYANNA refers to an excessively cheerful or optimistic person. The word comes from the novel Pollyanna written by Eleanor Porter. The heroine of this novel is characterised by irrepressible optimism and a tendency to find good in everything.

The word quixotic comes from Don Quixote, the hero of the novel Don Quixote de la Mancha by Cervantes. In this novel, the character of Don Quixote is typified by a romantic vision and a na`EFve, unworldly idealism. Hence, the adjective created from this character’s name refers to anyone who is idealistic to an impractical degree and follows rash, lofty, romantic ideas with extravagantly chivalrous action.

In Mary W. Shelley's novel Frankenstein the eponymous main character is a scientist who creates and brings to life a man-like monster that eventually turns on him and destroys him. Surprisingly, Frankenstein is not the name of the monster but after the word came to the English lexis it came to be used for a work or agency that ruins its originator, or, a monster in the shape of a man.

Creative destruction
April 12, 2003
Language triumphs
March 29, 2003
March 15, 2003
Describing people
March 1, 2003
A living language
February 15, 2003
The New Year - III
February 1, 2003
The New Year - II
January 18, 2003
The New Year
January 4, 2003
Lively lives
December 21, 2002
Fashion statements
December 7, 2002

In the Faerie Queene by Edmund Spenser, Braggadocchio is extremely boastful. Spenser had coined this word from the French bragard, to brag, and occio, something large. Bragard also gave English the word braggart, a boaster. This word was later adapted to form braggadocio and was used to refer to boastful or arrogant behaviour rather than to a boastful person.

The word malapropos refers to anything inopportune or inappropriate. It comes from the French mal a propos, a phrase whose literal translation means ‘ill to purpose’. Malapropos became famous overnight after Richard Brinsley Sheridan created a character called Mrs Malaprop in his comedy The Rivals. This dear old aunt had a twisted tongue that could never get anything right. For instance, she referred to her daughter as a progeny of learning, meaning prodigy. For Mrs Malaprop, a headstrong person was as headstrong as an allegory (alligator) on the banks of the Nile. She gave the word malapropism the meaning of mistakenly using of a word in place of a similar-sounding one, often with an unintentional amusing effect.

Pickwickian is used to describe a jovial, plump or generous person after the character Mr Pickwick in Charles Dickens’ novel The Pickwick Papers. Mr Pickwick was marked by his simplicity and generosity. Due to Dickens’ description of another character Joe in the novel as ‘a fat, red-faced boy in a state of somnolence’, medical terminology acquired the term Pickwickian Syndrome to describe obesity accompanied by somnolence and lethargy along with other related symptoms. This state was so named because Dickens was the first person to describe this syndrome.


In Hindi, most names originate from common nouns. For instance, Shiv means one who does good, Allahabad is the town of the goddess, Himalaya means an abode of snow, Gopal is the person who takes care of the cows, Ganesh is the lord of the people, Krishna means a black man, Durga means the inaccessible one and Jodhpur is the town of warriors. In English once eponyms are created, the context of the proper noun dominates. The above Hindi words show that the reverse happens in Hindi.

This feature was published on April 26, 2003