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Eponymosity!

A quickie blog post today, inspired by Benjamin Dreyer’s entertaining rant on the distinction between eponymous and titular (it’s in footnote 1 for a clearer explanation than I am inclined/able to provide), and also by the fact that one of these sneaky little bastards nearly got me in a recent book.

So. An eponym is simply a word taken from a person’s name. Obamacare is an eponym, so is Reaganomics. If you hoover your carpets, the verb comes from the eponymous brand of vacuum cleaner. (We do not use the capital letter, no matter what the Hoover corporation may think: that ship has sailed, as demonstrated by the fact that I hoover with a Dyson.)

If you write historical novels, eponyms are one of those damn things. They tend to be extremely and usefully specific in meaning, but they are also extremely specific in dates, meaning you can’t rely on the old “well it was probably around for decades before it made it into the dictionary” line.

Here for your advisory is an incomplete list of eponyms that may trip you up, depending on period.

Boycott

The name comes from 1880 (Ireland, Charles Boycott, a shitty land agent who was socially and economically ostracised). The practice is older: there was a widespread boycott in the UK of slavery-produced sugar starting in 1791, during which sales plummeted by something like 40%. It is totally historically plausible to have a consumer or personal boycott in your Georgian or Regency novel, but you can’t call it a boycott for several decades more

Chauvinist

Named for a French vaudeville character. Meaning ‘blinkered nationalist’ it dates from 1840; you can’t use it for a male pig until 1960.

Fedora                                                                                                         

The hat beloved of men who spend too long on the internet getting angry about Star Wars sequels actually used to be a symbol of female liberation and cross dressing. Comes from the 1887 play Fédora starring Sarah Bernhardt.

Fuchsia

You will be able to spell this if you remember it’s an eponym for Mr Fuchs. The flowers are so named in the UK in the 1750s, the colour not till the 1920s. Do not put your Regency heroine in fuchsia, is what I mean.

Maverick

Supposedly from a US cattle owner, Samuel Maverick, who let his calves run wild. 1880s US at the very earliest, more probably 1930s. Yes, that is irritating.

Mesmeric

He may have compelling eyes but they ain’t mesmeric before the 1860s. The hypnotist Mesmer flourished in the late 1700s, giving us mesmerism (hypnosis); mesmerise wasn’t a verb till the end of the Regency, and even then it still meant ‘to put into a hypnotic trance’.

Sadistic

Marquis de Sade, as you already know, but NB that sadist/sadistic aren’t in general use till the 1890s or so when sexology got going, along with masochism (also an eponym).

Sandwich

1762 since you ask.

Silhouette

The outline picture is named for French finance minister Etienne de Silhouette. Used in France from 1760. However, despite there being a craze for silhouettes in England, the actual word didn’t come here till the mid 1820s, which is sodding annoying if your novel about a silhouette cutter happens to be set in 1819 I’M JUST SAYING.

Sweet Fanny Adams

This UK usage originally referring to something no good, now often used as an alternative to ‘sweet FA/fuck all’, came in from 1869 and cannot be used before 1867. You really don’t want to know where it comes from but here if you must (be warned, it’s genuinely grim).

Thug

Originally from India. Used to describe the Thuggee (as Brits then called it) sect from 1810. Didn’t become generalised to all violent lowlifes till 1839. You can’t be assaulted by thugs in a Regency unless they are actually Thugs.

Trilby

Another hat your Regency gentleman can’t wear. Comes from George du Maurier’s mega hit Trilby published 1894, which also gave us svengali (the name of the baddie in the book).


Feel free to add to this in the comments, there’s always something!

Death in the Spires, my Oxford-set historical murder mystery, is out now. The silhouette book, The Duke at Hazard, publishes in July: more later!

Death In the Spires is out!

Today is the official publication date of my very first murder mystery. Obviously I have written many (many) murders, some of them mysterious, but this is my first genre murder. Which is to say, it’s not a romance novel. Do not go in expecting a HEA, okay?

Death in the Spires is very much a book of my heart. It is, in fact, the book I was discussing with Mr KJC one summer afternoon in the pub about eight years ago, just before I told him that I would rather eat out of bins than keep doing my then job till Christmas as planned, and he said, “Put in your notice tomorrow.” So I did, and moved to being a freelance writer/editor, and then a full time writer, and you can thank/blame Mr KJC for the thirty-odd novels I now have under my belt.

If you’re wondering about ‘eight years ago’: I wrote it, and it didn’t quite work. Couldn’t put my finger on it, so I shoved the MS to one side for five minutes because I was building my career in romance, and then Brexit, Trump, pandemic, before you know it six years have elapsed. But then last year I sent it to exciting new publisher Storm, and they liked it. A terrifically brutal/brutally terrific edit by Kathryn Taussig and Natasha Hodgson later, it did work, and here we are.

It’s a mystery starring an intense group of friends whose glittering Oxford and future careers are abruptly cut short when one of them is murdered…by one of them. Ten years on, scholarship boy turned drab clerk Jem sets out to discover who did it.

It’s running at an average five stars on NetGalley, which is nice. A few review quotes:

One of the best books I have read so far this year. The people and places all feel so real. Even though the setting is historical so many of the issues are ones that are completely relevant now just with a slightly different slant.

This is a mystery story but it is also a beautiful love story. I loved the character of Jem and was with him every painful step of the way

This is, in my humble opinion, the absolute best book K.J. Charles has written so far

A great, satisfying mystery. I read the whole thing in a day

KJ pivots toward a more classic murder mystery, but still gives us strong, nuanced characters in whose emotional lives we can’t help but be invested. As always, her eye for detail and twisty plotting result in a brilliant story that will keep readers breathlessly barreling toward the satisfying conclusion.

Why yes, I do have my usual K.J. Charles book hangover. Thanks for asking.

Clicky for content warnings. Again: not a romance. Available in print and e, and audio read by Tom Lawrence.

Buy links here!