Nine Common Words Named After French People


I had hoped to post this list on some relevant date like Bastille Day, but I missed that. And France didn't win the World Cup this year either. So this is a truly random list that I'm putting up for no good reason, other than that I was recently thinking of eponyms – words named after individuals (e.g., mesmerize, shrapnel) – and noticed that several were inspired by famous Frenchmen. This made for a slightly more cohesive list.

  1. Pasteurization. If you see the word "pasteurized" on bottles of milk and wine, you can thank chemist Louis Pasteur (1822-1895) for coming up with a way to keep these products from souring quickly, among his many other achievements.
  2. Braille. The blind scholar Louis Braille (1809-1852) invented this raised-bump style of printing so that similarly afflicted people could read books with their fingers – and write, too.
  3. Leotard. Circus acrobat Jules Léotard (1839-1870) made famous this skintight one-piece outfit, used by ballerinas, gymnasts, and aerobics instructors ever since.
  4. Guillotine. Dr. Joseph-Ignace Guillotin (1738-1814) did not invent the guillotine, but he did propose the use of this mechanical device for carrying out death penalties in France. Ironically, Guillotin was against capital punishment; he suggested this as the most "humane" way to execute someone, if execution was inevitable. (The story that Guillotin himself was beheaded by a guillotine is just a myth.)
  5. Sadism/sadist/sadistic. These terms are derived from the formal title of libertine writer Donatien Alphonse François (1740-1814) – that is, the Marquis de Sade.
  6. Praline. Southerners – especially New Orleanians – know pralines as supersweet sugar-and-cream-coated pecan patties. Elsewhere, the word means a nutty powder that fills chocolate candies. And of course praline crunch remains a favorite ice cream flavor. In any event, the name comes from French soldier/diplomat Marshal du Plessis-Praslin (1598-1675). It's said that his cook Clément Lassagne invented the original sugar-coated almond confections. (Why these confections are not called "Lassagnes" may have to do with that word potentially being confused with "lasagne" – which Clément Lassagne did not invent.)
  7. Clementine. A popular tangerine-like fruit available at most supermarkets, the clementine got its name in 1902 from either Pierre Clément, a French priest living in Algeria, or Father Clément Rodier, who ran an orphanage in Algeria. The debate rages on. In any event, one of these two men discovered this "accidental" hybrid between a mandarin and a regular orange in Algeria's arid climes, and gave his name to it.
  8. Silhouette. Étienne de Silhouette (1709-1767) was finance minister under Louis XV. In his retirement, he practiced the art of cutting out paper in the shape of friends' profiles – which were later called, of course, silhouettes.
  9. Saxophone. I am cheating slightly, as this musical instrument's designer Adolphe Sax (1814-1894) was born and raised in Belgium. But he built his eponymous instrument after relocating permanently to Paris, he is buried in Paris, and I'm sure the French would be proud to claim the inventor of the saxophone as their own.