Thursday, December 9, 2010




1 : to suppress quietly or indirectly
2 : bypass, avoid

This word comes from William Burke, famous for strangling or suffocating people at random and lucratively selling their bodies to a local anatomy school. He was eventually caught, and at his execution the crowd began yelling "BURKE him!," a clever nod to his work. He was hung, not strangled, but the verb stuck and softened over time, becoming now a quiet suppression.

Some other names that became words:

Rudolf Diesel
Jean Nicot(ine)
Joseph Guillotin(e)
Amelia Bloomer
John Montagu, The Fourth Earl of Sandwich
Etienne de Silhouette

My favorite backstory belongs to Montagu, a compulsive gambler who refused to leave the table to eat, ordering from the kitchen only a piece of meat between two pieces of bread to tide himself over during a game. The servants coined the term in passing his order to the cook.

I mean, I found this story on the internet, so take it at face value.

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