That’s Mrs Frisbie to You!

John Bemelmans Marciano tracked down the people whose names stand behind words in the English language. His new book is called Anonyponymous, meaning that nobody ever heard of them despite the fact that things and places are named after them. NPR had a story about the book this morning.

Take Mrs Frisbie, who used to bake pies somewhere in Connecticut. Yale students used to take her pie tins and toss them, and since her name was indented into the tins, they called it frisbie. Later the Whammo Company invented a flying disc they called the Pluto platter. It wasn’t selling.

They found out about Mrs Frisbie and renamed their toy a Frisbee, and got a patent. There was once a man named Leotard, and in order to help sell more tickets to dance recitals, he wore the body-hugging outfit that today every girl in dance class wears.

There was also someone named Shrapnel, a Frenchman named Guilotine and even an Arab from whose name we get the word algorithm:Abu Al-Khwarizmi. Another guy was named Etienne de Silhouette, and he was a French finance minister. His namesake pieces of art were cheaper to make than an entire portrait. So his legacy will always be those shadows pictures, because he was notoriously cheap.