The word “boycott” can be traced to 1880. It is one of the most well-known eponyms a name or noun formed after a person) in the English language.
Retired army captain Charles Cunningham Boycott (1832-97) got a job as a land agent with the Earl of Erne’s estates in County Mayo, Ireland.
His job was to squeeze the money out of poverty-stricken farmers and to kick out anybody who could not pay. After he set about evicting 11 tenants, the Mayo branch of the Irish Land League, formed in 1879, to protect farmers from wealthy landlords who charged unfair rents to their tenant farmers, began a campaign to isolate Boycott. This included the delivery of mail, local shopkeepers refusing to serve he and his family, and threats against those who continued to work for him. His own crops had to be harvested through the help of 50 volunteers from the north of the country, who worked under the protection of 900 soldiers.
Boycott wrote to London press about threats against his life and violence against those who sought to assist him in any way. The Times, published it on November 20, 1880, and his name and plight was soon published throughout Europe.
The term boycott became a term used in relation to a non-violent form of protest. By the time of the captain’s death in 1897, it had become a standard part of the English language.
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