Presidential Eponyms and Why John Adams Doesn't Get Any


Sorry, John.
I'm a bit of a word nerd. There was a time when I lusted after nothing more than the 20-volume Oxford English Dictionary. A record of every single word in the English language (including obsolete ones) and their etymologies... I had to own it. I stalked that set like a lion in the savanna until its price dipped just below exorbitant and I struck.

On the glorious day those five heavy boxes arrived from Amazon, I'm not ashamed to say I did the same thing I would have done when I was ten years old. I immediately looked up the worst words I could think of to see what new treasures I could find.

I was rewarded handsomely:

I’ve never felt more like Robert Langdon as I raced for Volume 20 (Wave - Zyxt) to unlock the secrets of the mysterious windfucker.
Being the word nerd I am and fascinated with the way words enter our language, there is a special place in my heart for eponymous adjectives – adjectives named after people. Sometimes a person or character comes along who makes such a dent in our culture that their name takes on a meaning all its own. That’s the case for each of the first four presidents except John Adams. You can describe a noun as being Washingtonian, Jeffersonian, and even the rarely-used Madisonian. Heck, even the first Secretary of the Treasury got in on the fun with Hamiltonian.

If we go beyond adjectives into the wild world of nouns, we find other founding fathers have been eponymized as well. “John Hancock” became synonymous with a signature partly because of his oversized name on the Declaration of Independence and partly because creepy salespeople love saying, "Put your John Hancock right here!" Ben Franklin not only got the eponymous Franklin Stove, but Puff Daddy helped make his first name stand for $100 bills with “It’s All About the Benjamins.”

Elbridge Gerry, another signer of the Declaration of Independence and vice-president under James Madison, got himself a verb. Gerrymander means to divide electoral districts in a way that give the party in power an unfair advantage, and wondering how it's legal can make your head explode. Thanks, Gerry.

John Adams doesn’t get an adjective, a noun, a verb, or a stove. His first name doesn't mean money – it's only synonymous with bathrooms and wenchers. Say, for example, the late John F. Kennedy, Jr. had tried to solicit a prostitute in a restroom – you could refer to him as John-John the john john. If John-John paid by check instead of the more customary Benjamins, he would need to bust out his John Hancock.

So why no eponymous love for Adams? To get an eponymous adjective often requires a distinctive style, as in Hitchcockian, Lynchian, and Kafkaesque. John Adams was a brilliant, grandiose, and possibly essential champion of American independence, but he wasn't unique enough for the English language to need a shorter way of saying "That's so Adams!"

Even if he had a truly one-of-a-kind voice, it might not have helped. People tried to use the term “Adamsian” to capture the essence of Douglas Adams, author of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. The term might have caught on if it sounded better, which is the real problem. We like our eponymous adjectives to roll off the tongue, like Victorian, Christian, Machiavellian. Ah, Machiavellian...how could something so conniving and manipulative sound so beautiful?

“Adamsian” doesn’t roll off the tongue; it falls back in the throat and makes you gag. You need ice cream after saying it like you just had your tonsils removed.

Early versions of Microsoft’s Clippy were even more aggressive.
But just because John Adams's name doesn’t lend itself to a melodic tongue party of an adjective like Niccolò Machiavelli doesn’t mean he can’t have an adjective all his own. So let's give him one.

Forget those boring common suffixes –ian and –esque. Those are for regular incredible people. I propose giving Adams the less popular –ic suffix:
Adamsic: [uh-dams-ik]
adjective
1. Of or pertaining to President John Adams, his presidency, or his personality.
2. Characteristic of the man Benjamin Franklin described as “always an honest man, often a brilliant one, but sometimes absolutely mad.”

The defense attorney used her Adamsic speaking skills to keep the jury engaged during her lengthy closing arguments. 
If history considers Adams a mediocre president, it seems fitting for his eponym to share a suffix with other disappointing terms, like "Platonic" love and the "Bubonic" plague.

One surprising presidential eponym that is certainly not disappointing is the teddy bear. The children's toy was named for an incident on a hunting trip where Teddy Roosevelt refused to shoot a black bear tied to a tree. The other kind of teddy, the sexy lingerie item, was named because its puffy form reminded someone of the stuffed bear. A form-fitting teddy doesn't seem "puffy" by today's standards, but this was the 1930s where wire corsets were still a thing. If women back then weren't being brutally choked into an hourglass shape, they apparently looked like floppy little fur-beasts. Who knew?

I made a longer list of the most popular presidential eponyms I could find in the chart below. Some are in the Oxford English Dictionary, more recent ones are on dictionary.com or Wikipedia, and a few of the older ones are so legit they pass the red squiggly line spell check test in Word – that’s how you know you’ve made it.
http://i.imgur.com/p9rFXC3.png

Let me know if you can think of more or have suggestions for new ones, and maybe I’ll let you into The SSW (Secret Society of Windfuckers.)


Sources: Oxford English Dictionary, dictionary.com, Wikipedia, word-detective.com

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2 comments:

  1. Looking at that teddy, I definitely see round ears...

    ReplyDelete

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