Let’s talk eponyms today from epi, “upon” and onyma, “name” — words derived from the names of people. It happened to President Theodore (Teddy) Roosevelt while on a hunting trip to Mississippi. Members of his party stunned a bear, tied it to a tree, and encouraged T.R. to shoot it. The President refused. A cartoonist for the Washington Post depicted the event, and the story caught the fancy of the nation. The rest is history. A Brooklyn candy store owner, Morris Michtom, fashioned a teddy bear out of brown plush in 1902, the first of over 60 million cuddly creatures to bear his name.
Less clear cut is case of a delicious log-shaped bar made of chocolate-covered caramel and peanuts. The founder of the Curtis Candy Company named it Babe Ruth in 1921 after President Cleveland’s daughter Ruth. But Cleveland hadn’t been president for nearly a quarter of a century, and his daughter had been dead for seventeen years. It was a blatant attempt by Curtis to avoid having to pay royalties to the Yankee slugger who was at the height of his popularity — a claim they still deny. The evidence, however, shows it, like the candy bar, to be quite nutty.
Many tempting ideas present themselves to us daily. What makes them so enticing is the burning desire they create from titionis, “firebrand,” from intitiare, “to set on fire.” They titillate us from titillare, “to tickle.” When we finally make an attempt at them, we do so from the Latin ad, “to” or “towards” and temptare,” “to try,” “feel out,” or “test.”
A classic case from Greek mythology of one tempting fate is the story of the King of Lydia. Befriended by the Gods, he betrayed them, stealing their nectar and ambrosia and testing their divinity, serving them the flesh of his own son. For his deeds he was doomed to stand forever thirsty and hungry in a pool of water up to his chin. Whenever he bent to drink, the water would recede. His efforts to reach toward fruit hanging from a bough directly above, caused the wind to carry the branch away from him. His name was Tantalus, and his name would forever be linked to “provoking desire and creating expectations without fulfillment.” That’s what makes things out of our reach so tantalizing. You and I are clearly above it all, being as one with Oscar Wilde who could “…resist everything except for temptation
Who wants to be a millionaire? Your path to fame and fortune begins with the Latin via, “road.” — the first step via, “by way of” that special 800 number. Soon you come to a critical juncture, what the Romans called a trivium, from tri, “three,” + via, — creating the intersection of three roads where one and all gathered to share the latest gossip. The very mastery of such trivia allows you to continue.
Fortunately, you are already familiar with certain aspects of your trek from obvium, “that which you previously had met on the way,” from ob, “against,” + via, making your choices obvious. Removing them from your path, simply obviates them. However, the obstacles in your way become more and more devious, from deviare, taking you down another road, de, “away from” your itinerary. Never once deviating from your goal, you are soon laughing all the way to the bank. The glitzy pianist, Liberace, coined that phrase back in 1954 in response to scathing reviews of his sold-out performances. His original statement had him ironically “crying,” not “laughing.” But when it comes to money, laughing is the American way, and knowledge is trivial.