E is for Energy eponyms

I’m more interested in those eponymous words that have “entered in many dictionaries as lowercase when they have evolved a common status, no longer deriving their meaning from the proper-noun origin.”

An eponym, if you don’t know (and even if you do), is one for whom or which something is or is believed to be named. For example, the Bowie knife or the sandwich (for some Earl of Sandwich) or gerrymandering.

From Wikipedia: “A synonym of ‘eponym’ is namegiver (not to be confused with namesake). Someone who (or something that) is referred to with the adjective eponymous is the eponym of something. An example is: ‘Léon Theremin, known as the eponymous inventor of the theremin.'” The most famous use of the theremin is on the Beach Boys song Good Vibrations.

There are LOTS of examples of upper case eponyms, such as parts of the body (Adam’s apple) or names of diseases (Alzheimer’s disease). I’m more interested in those eponymous words that have “entered in many dictionaries as lowercase when they have evolved a common status, no longer deriving their meaning from the proper-noun origin.” Among the nouns that have achieved this status, many relate to energy. Check out this list:
hertz (Hz), frequency – Heinrich Rudolf Hertz
joule (J), energy, work, heat – James Prescott Joule
newton (N), force – Isaac Newton
ohm (Ω), electrical resistance – Georg Ohm
volt (V), electric potential, electromotive force – Alessandro Volta
watt (W), power, radiant flux – James Watt
Most of these are fairly common terms.

But WHY these? I have no idea. The only eponym list I found comparably lowercase is those which derived from products that were once brand names but are now generic, such as linoleum and videotape.

ABC Wednesday – Round 13

Author: Roger

I'm a librarian. I hear music, even when it's not being played. I used to work at a comic book store, and it still informs my life. I won once on JEOPARDY! - ditto.

30 thoughts on “E is for Energy eponyms”

  1. To hoover is more of a British or European term to vacuum; most Americans wouldn’t recognize it, I suspect.

  2. GREAT post – I’m wracking my addled brain for other examples… came up with Bell telephones but those are company names, hey how about the Colt revolver – or achilles heel?

    Oh my mind is off…I’m in big trouble!!!

    Great post, have a great week.

  3. Achilles’ heel and Colt revolver for sure. Bell phones were pretty much a brand like Breyers ice cream.

  4. There is quite a list when I start to think about it, interesting. Ohm gets a law named after him too.

  5. Scotch tape, and Kleenex, a Xerox copy are all brand names that the general public wants to genericize, i.e., use the brand name as the common name.

  6. I feel stupid now. I did know some of these terms were from famous people or those who invented them, but I have to admit my ignorance of the meaning of the word “eponym.”

    abcw team

  7. I agree with Hildred. Definitely a brain-stirrer, and I must admit my brain needed stirring. Thanks, Roger! Always fun to see what you come up with, and how much of it involves music. I don’t remember the instrument named theremin but I certainly remember the Beach Boys from the 60s, and their Good Vibrations.

  8. Well I have to join with Leslie on this. I did not know the word ‘eponym’. How could I have missed this in school. Shame on me. How about ‘Biro’? That is/was the British name for a ball point pen.

  9. I was transported back to my classroom in school and all the agony which went with learning all these laws!! I did enjoy learning a new word and your commentary on eponymous words.

  10. Hard to keep up with eponyms, especially when dealing with more than one language. I remember returning to Holl. after 12 years, and with food they kept referring to “joule.” When asking what the word meant, they casually responded, “Oh we changed how we measure how much energy a food substance has. But you knew that.” “Uh…no, I was gone…” You can imagine a whole discussion came out of the joule:)

  11. Huh. I use those units constantly but I never noticed that they were lower case eponym.

    I’ve got one for the trivia champ: what is the metric unit of weight and the English unit of mass? (Wikipedia has it wrong on their units page.)

  12. Interesting post. I learned a new word today – eponym. The only one I knew was newton. Thanks for sharing.

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