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Week seventy-four: BELCHER (probability 24309), by David Sutton

A BELCHER sounds like one of those agent nouns of which one is forever doubtful: can someone given to excessive eructation reasonably be called a belcher, one may ask oneself. Well, possibly, but the matter is settled by another meaning entirely: a BELCHER is a coloured, spotted neckerchief, and is named after the famous prize-fighter Jem Belcher (1781-1811), who habitually wore one. Belcher was Champion of All England from 1800 to 1805, but lost a vital match against Tom Cribb in 1807 and died a broken man. [For a wonderful account of prize-fighting in this era, try George Macdonald Fraser's 'Black Ajax'].

BELCHER thus belongs to that class of word which might be termed 'disguised eponyms': words derived nonobviously from the names of people. How many of us realise, I wonder, that the gymnastic exercise known as a BURPEE is actually named for its inventor, an American (I suppose it would have to be) called R.H. Burpee? Or that a DERRICK takes its name from Thomas Derrick, a well-known Tyburn hangman? Or that the nut called a FILBERT is named for St. Philibert, whose feast day falls at the peak of the nutting season? Or that the small brightly coloured W. Indian fish known as a GUPPY commemorates R. J. Lechmere Guppy, a Trinidadian clergyman who first supplied specimens to the British Museum? Or that a MANSARD roof is named for the French architect Francois Mansard? Or that we owe MAVERICK to Samuel A. Maverick, 1803-1870, a Texan cattleman who did not brand his calves?

If eponyms interest you, all these with several hundred more can be found in my Eponyms category at http://www.absp.org.uk/words/eponyms.shtml.

   













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