Put a name to that word

It is popular trivia that the cardigan was named after the 7th Earl of Cardigan, the British Major General who led the Charge of the Light Brigade during the Battle of Balaklava in the Crimean War on October 25, 1854.

What is less known is that it was this small village near Sebastopol in the Ukraine that gave its name to the woollen head and face covering.

Handmade balaklavas (now more commonly spelt balaclavas) were sent to the British troops in the Crimea to help protect their faces from the bitter cold.

Although first associated with soldiers, it became popular with polar and Himalayan explorers and for alpine sports, but in recent times has taken a more sinister turn as a way for criminals to disguise themselves. Much easier than pulling on a stocking.

Although there is little recorded use of the name balaclava before 1881, when it was called the balaclava helmet, it came into widespread use during the Boer War at the end of the century.

Long before this, another English nobleman, John Montagu the 4th Earl of Sandwich gave his name to our daily bread.

It is said that in the early 1760s, he was sitting at a gambling table and feeling a bit peckish. He didn’t want to go all the way to the dining room, and at a time when the use of cutlery was limited, he certainly had no intention of getting his hands and his cards greasy.

He summoned a servant and asked for some meat between two pieces of bread, and the rest is history.

In 1778, Captain Cook named a group of islands in the Pacific in Montagu’s honour. Sandwich Isles was briefly used by the American and the British although it has become better known by the name of the largest island in the group, Hawaii.

And if you thought a boycott was named after some activist from times past, you haven’t heard about another 19th century English gentleman called Captain Charles C. Boycott.

The land manager for John Crichton, the third Earl of Erne, he was quick to demand unfair rents and evict those who couldn’t pay, so he himself became the subject, not the perpetrator, of a boycott.

At the time, only 0.2 per cent of the population owned land in Ireland. They often didn’t live there and rented the land to tenant farmers. 

In the mid-1800s, not surprisingly, the famers began demanding fair rent and security of tenure.

In September 1880, the farmers were struggling after a bad harvest, and Boycott offered them a rent reduction of 10 per cent. They demanded 25 per cent and when the Earl of Erne refused, Boycott sent the constabulary to deliver eviction notices to 11 tenants who couldn’t pay.

The Irish National Land League picked up the cause and its leader Charles Parnell said that instead of answering the popular cry to kill the offender, he should be shunned – or as it was to later become known, boycotted.

Farmers began to shun both Boycott and anyone who worked for him, so he was left with a large estate and no famers to tend the crops. Businesses also shunned him so he found it difficult to even provide for himself.

In late November, Boycott fled to Dublin where he was again ostracized and those who considered working with or for him, were threatened with a boycott.

By 1888, the word had entered the New English Dictionary on Historical Principles, better known as the Oxford English Dictionary.

Boycott himself moved to America under a new name, Charles Cunningham, but eventually was exposed and boycotted there too.