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Word Meaning Eponym
sabin A unit of acoustic absorption equivalent to the absorption of all sound by one square foot of a surface. Wallace Clement Sabine (1868-1919), American physicist who was the founder of the modern study of acoustics.
sadism The enjoyment of inflicting pain on others. Count Donatien Alphonse François de Sade (1740-1814), French soldier who wrote novels about his adventures in mistreating young girls in his village.
sad sack An awkward, dull, and foolish person. A cartoon character created in 1942 by George Baker (1915-1975).
Saint Bernard A large, shaggy dog breed. Saint Bernard of Menthon (923-1008), an Italian clergyman who established a hospice on an Alpine pass connecting France and Germany with Rome from which, with the assistance of his dogs, he helped pilgrims trapped in the enormous snow drifts of that pass.
salmonella A pathogenic bacteria causing food poisoning, typhoid, and other infectious diseases in humans and domestic animals. Daniel Elmer Salmon (1850-1914), an American veterinary surgeon who took credit for the discovery of salmonella, which was actually discovered by his colleague Theobald Smith.
samarskite A black mineral occurring in pegmatites. Vasilii Yefrafovich Samarski-Bykhovets (1803-1870), Chief of staff of the Russian Corps of Mining Engineers.
sandwich Food on a slice of bread or between two slices, eaten with the hands. John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich (1718-1792), an English aristocrat after whom Captain James Cook also named the Sandwich Islands.
sanforize sanforise To preshrink clothes so that they will not shrink further after purchase. Sandford Lockwood Cluett (1840-1968), the American inventor of the process.
sapphic, sapphist A lesbian, a female homosexual. Sappho, a Greek woman poet of the island of Lesbos from 612 BC to 570 BC, and presumed to be homosexual.
Saturday The seventh day of the week, after Friday. Saturn, Roman god of agriculture.
saturnine Gloomy, sullen Presumed result of being born under the influence of the planet Saturn.
savarin A sponge cake baked in a ring mold. Antheline Brillat-Savarin (died 1826), a French politician and gourmet cook, author of Physiologie du Gout (The Physiology of Taste).
savart A unit of measure in music equal to the ratio in frequency between notes. The French physicist, Félix Savart (1791-1841), best known for his work in electromagnetism, though he also did pioneering research in the physics of sound.
Savoyard A devotee of Gilbert & Sullivan operas or a performer in them. After the Savoy Theatre in London, known for its performances of Gilbert & Sullivan.
saxophone A brass reed musical instrument shaped like an S. Adolphe Sax (1814-1894), a Belgian musician and musical-instrument maker.
scrooge A mean-spirited skinflint, a nasty, ill-tempered, stingy person. After Ebenezer Scrooge, the miserly old-man in A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens.
sequoia The giant redwood tree. Sequoya (1770-1843), 19th-century Cherokee scholar who developed a writing system for the Cherokee language.
shanghai To kidnap and force to work (on a ship) The city of Shanghai, China. The difficulty of recruiting sailors for the trips to China in 19th century San Francisco led to this word.
shrapnel 1. Metal fragments from a bomb or artillery shell. 2. A 19th-century hollow cannon ball filled with metal shot that exploded in the air. Henry Shrapnel (1761-1842) who, while a lieutenant in the Royal Artillery, invented a "spherical case" ammunition, comprising a hollow cannon ball filled with metal balls which burst in mid-air.
shylock A loan shark, someone who lends money at a usurious interest rate. This word was originally the name of a ruthless money lender in Shakespeare's drama The Merchant of Venice.
sideburns That part of the hair that grows in front of the ears. Ambrose Everett Burnside (1824-1881), American general known mostly for wearing sideburns.
siemens A unit of electrical conductance equal to the reciprocal of an ohm (one ampere per volt). Ernst Werner von Siemens (1816-1892), German electrical engineer, inventor, and businessman.
sievert The amount of ionizing radiation required to produce the biological effect as one rad of high-penetration x-rays. R. M. Sievert (1896-1966), a Swedish physicist.
silhouette A flat shadow-like figure without features other than a solid outline against a white background. Étienne de Silhouette (1709-1767), French Controller-General of Finances under Louis XV, because the victims of his taxes were reduced to mere shadows of themselves.
simony The ecclesiastical crime of paying for offices or positions in the hierarchy of a church. Simon Magus, 1st century astrologer from Samaria who, according to Acts 8:18-19, tried to buy the power of conferring the gift of the Holy Spirit to people from the Apostles.
slave A person who legally belongs to another and has no rights within the law. Sclavus, Medieval Latin word for 'a Slav', a member of the Slavonic people of central Europe, including Poles, Czechs, Russian, and Ukrainians.
slob A person with no sense of cleanliness or hygiene. Another racial slur for Slav, a member of the Slavonic people of central Europe, including Poles, Czechs, Russian, and Ukrainians.
smithsonite Native zinc carbonate. James Smithson (original name James Lewes Macie; 1765-1829), the British chemist for whom the Smithsonian Institute was also named.
Socratic method, irony Related to raising doubt with questions and following the implications of the questions in teaching. Socrates (circa 470-399 BCE), Greek philosopher who developed this method of teaching.
solecism A grammatical error or breach of good manners. This word is a revised copy of Greek soloikos "speaking incorrectly; awkward, rude". It originally meant "speaking like the people of Soloi", a Greek colony whose dialect the Athenians considered barbarous.
soubise A sauce of butter, tarragon, chicken stock, Chablis and onions thickened with cream. Charles de Rohan, Prince de Soubise (1715-1787), French nobleman and epicure.
sousaphone A bass brass instrument that wraps around the shoulder. The horn was developed in the 1890s by J. W. Pepper at the request of John Philip Sousa (1854-1932), American composer and bandleader, whose name Pepper adopted for his instrument.
spartan Lean, spare, austere, lacking frills or accessories. The ancient Greek city of Sparta, the capital of Laconia, known for its strictness, frugality, and its laconic speech.
spencer 1. A short double-breasted overcoat worn by men in the 19th century. 2. A close-fitting, waist-length jacket worn by women. George John Spencer, 2nd Earl of Spencer (1758-1834), English Whig politician known mostly for having things named after him.
spoonerism A speech error in which the first letters of two adjacent or close words are switched, as 'I hissed your mystery class'. Reverend William Archibald Spooner (1844-1930), Anglican clergyman and educator, dean (1876-89) and warden (1903-1924) of New College, Oxford.
stentorian Loud, booming. Stentor, a herald of the Greek forces during the Trojan War whose voice, according to Homer, was as powerful as fifty voices of other men.
stetson A tall, large-brimmed hat favored in Texas and western US states. John Bauerson Stetson (1830-1906), an obscure American hat-maker.
stoic Brave, unresponsive, unemotional. The Stoics, a Greek school of philosophy founded by Zeno about 308 BCE that believed God determined everything by diviine will, so anything that comes to pass should be calmly accepted as for the best.
stroganoff Stewed in a sour cream, onion, and mushroom sauce: beef stroganoff, liver stroganoff, etc. Named for the prominent St. Petersburg family, Stroganoff, one of whose chefs apparently invented it.
Svengali A mysterious man who can hypnotize people and trick them into doing his bidding. Svengali, a character in Trilby, novel by English artist and writer George du Maurier (1834-1896).
syphilis A social venereal disease. Syphilis, a character in the poem Syphilis seve Morbus Gallicus by Girolamo Fracastro (1483-1553), a physician, astronomer, and poet of Verona. Syphilis was the name of the shepherd in the center of the poem and the disease he suffered from.
Sisyphean Endlessly laborious and futile. Sisyphus, a Corinthian king who offended Zeus and was punished by having to push a stone to the top of a hill in Hades. However, as the stone approaced the top, it rolled back down and Sisyphus had to start all over again.
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