The Toad's Words

Excursus #8

Recently, a writer friend of mine suggested I use the word burke in my next column. While looking it up, I began to wonder how many other words come from people's names. The answer is, not as many as you would think. I invite the readers of this column to submit other words that fall in this category.

Burke, verb

To kill someone by suffocation, so as to not leave marks on the body, for the purpose of selling it for dissection. It also can mean to stifle, to extinguish quietly, or to avoid or disregard.

I certainly prefer the first definition. It comes from William Burke, an Irish grave robber and murderer, who was hanged in Edinburgh in 1829 after killing more than a dozen people and selling their bodies to the University of Edinburgh medical school. It is said that he was hanged in front of a large crowd that took to chanting "Burke him! Burke him!"

The cadaver being used this semester in Human Physiology 314 had once been the president of a small company before being burked by his board of directors. The company was now, however, out of debt.

Spoonerism, noun

The accidental transposition of the sounds of two or more words in a sentence or phrase usually resulting in a humorous statement, such as, "The goy bagged the dog," for "The boy gagged the dog."

The word comes from the Reverend William A. Spooner of New College, Oxford (1844-1930) who was famous for such mistakes as referring to Queen Victoria as "The queer old dean," instead of "the dear old Queen."

William's spoonerism got him in trouble when he told his teacher he was going to hiss her mystery lesson.

Draconian, adjective

Exceedingly harsh or severe. Of or relating to Draco and the laws formulated by him.

Draco was a seventh century B.C. Athenian lawmaker whose penalties usually called for death.

Cutting off the right hand for stealing a duck seemed a bit draconian to the outsider.

Quisling, noun

A traitor who collaborates with the invaders of his country.

Vidkun Abraham Lauritz Quisling was a Norwegian traitor of World War II who aided the German occupation forces.

After Bubba fumbled the football on their own twenty-yard line during the championship game, the more pedantic students started calling him a quisling.

Bowdlerize, verb

To censor printed matter by expurgating material that is deemed offensive.

The word comes from the expurgated edition of Shakespeare The Family Shakespeare published anonymously by Harriet Bowdler in 1807 and then under the name of her brother, Thomas Bowdler, in 1818.

James felt like burking the right wingers who labeled him as a quisling simply because he objected to their bowdlerizing the President's spoonerisms.

Disclaimer: The author, his peers, friends, and colleagues in no way take responsibility for crossed-eyed glances, slapped faces, rejected offers, or any draconian consequences as a result of using The Toad's Words.

Revised: August 27, 2000

Copyright by Michael L. VanBlaricum, 04 September 2000.

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