French names immortalised in history ... and language

Pralines, Montgolfier and chauvinisme owe their names to historical – and in one case mythical – French people

Have you ever wondered about the origins of some of the more unusual words in the French language?

While Latin or Greek are the root of many words, a handful are derived from the surnames of actual French people who made them famous. Thus, through the wheels of invention, some proper nouns have made their way into the language. Here are a few:

 

Poubelle

Eugène-René Poubelle was a French lawyer who later became a prefect and city administrator and, as such, introduced dustbins to Paris. He made their use in the city compulsory, despite opposition from the capital’s slumlords and rag-and-bone men.

He decreed that owners of buildings must provide residents with three covered containers to hold household refuse. The refuse was to be sorted into compostable items, paper and cloth, and crockery and shells.

Poubelle also campaigned successfully for direct drainage following a resurgence of cholera in 1892.

Guillotine

The execution machine most famously used in the French Revolution to behead Marie Antoinette was named after Doctor Joseph-Ignace Guillotin.

The doctor served in the national assembly and, although opposed to the death penalty, he proposed the tool as a humane alternative to beheading by sword or axe, which was often botched. ...

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