The “Named For a Person” Challenge or Something?


Today’s title isn’t all that great. So let me explain!

Yesterday, on my Twitter account, I asked:

Of all the widely-used terms that are named after someone, which is the most recently created? Richter scale is from 1935, which I thought was a good candidate, but the Heimlich maneuver (1974) beats it by decades. Anything else?

I got a few replies, which I’ll get to in a second, and it was clear that I had to refine my criteria a bit. First, I defined “widely-used” as “something that (a) doesn’t require the user to offer a further explanation and (b) typically is the only phrase used to describe the item/situation/etc.,” which admittedly isn’t a great definition. Second, I vacillated on how “wide” the “widely-used” term needs to be; there are a lot of terms that, among the communities in which the term is used, meet the two prongs of the definition I just laid out. But there’s little understanding of the term outside of those communities (I’ll get to that soon, too.) And finally, I think “terms” should exclude companies and products that were named for a person unless the item has been genericized since. 

What’s really interesting to me is how few candidates there are out there. Here are some that some Twitter users sent in. If you have suggestions, send them to me there or via email. I’ll be surprised if there are a lot.

Candidates I Rejected As Not “Widely-Used”

  • Moore’s Law (1965), Tommy John surgery (1974), and the Hastert Rule (~2000). All three are very well known in their circles (computing, baseball, and U.S. politics) but don’t have widespread implications and haven’t entered our regular vernacular as a result. I could see the case for all of these, though. Moore’s Law actually predates the Heimlich maneuver, so it would make the larger list but obviously isn’t a winner.
  • The Monty Hall problem (1975), the Bechdel Test (1985), Godwin’s Law (1990), and the Dunning–Kruger effect (1999). None feel particularly close to meeting the “widely-used” standard.
  • The Mandela Effect (2009). Similarly doesn’t meet this standard. I also don’t really know if it’s fair to say this is named after someone; it’s named because of a false memory about that person, which seems different to me.

Candidates I Rejected For Other Reasons

  • “Benjamins,” meaning $100 bills. It doesn’t quite meet the spirit of the question
  • Bluetooth (1998). Named for a person and widespread, but it’s only named for the person because someone thought it sounded cool.
  • Alzheimer’s disease (1901). The name dates back much further than the recommender thought.
  • The Riker and Picard Maneuvers (2375 and 2355, respectively). Neither has happened yet, and I doubt the former is widely used.

Potential Winners

  • Amber alert (2000). Because of the push notifications sent to iPhones in the United States, I think this one is going to be as recognizable as the Richter scale and Heimlich maneuver if it isn’t already.
  • Asperger syndrome (1976, maybe earlier). The only issue here is the date — there’s a case to be made that it was coined well before it was popularized. 
  • Obamacare (2007). Whether this meets the test of time is to be determined, but it could have a chance.

Any suggestions? Let me know.

The Now I Know Week in Review

Monday: Polly’s Neighbor Want a Walnut?: Some parrots share. Not all do, though.

Tuesday: The Secret Life of Honey Buns: The underground, tasty currency of prisons.

Wednesday: Why the Michelin Man is White (and Maybe an Alcoholic): And he’s tired, too. (Get it?)

Thursday: The Figuratively-Easter, Literally-Egg Easter Egg: Try this at home!

And some other things you should check out:

Some long reads for the weekend.

1) “Searching for the Notorious Celebrity Book Stylist” (NY Times Style Magazine, 11 minutes, April 2022). Welcome to a world where books are fashion accessories.

2) “How Untranslatable Words Have Connected Me to My Mother” (Catapult, 7 minutes, May 2022). There’s a pull quote in this that struck me: “If human experiences are universal, how can those experiences vary from language to language?” 

3) “The Truth About Slushies Must Come Out” (The Atlantic, 8 minutes, April 2022). No one really knows what a Slushie is, the author argues, and that’s kind of weird.

Have a great weekend, and a happy Mother’s Day to all the moms out there!