Sexual eponyms

The legendary Giacomo Casanova


This is a fantastic article about sexual eponyms – an eponym is a word derived from somebody’s name, or a place. There are hundreds of them in English, and we use them without ever thinking about their origins: for example, the Fahrenheit temperature scale is named after physicist Gabriel Fahrenheit. Likewise, a mausoleum is named after the ancient Carian leader Mausolus (Μαύσωλος), who had a huge tomb built for him by his sister and widow: now the word mausoleum refers to any grand tomb.

These eponyms, however, are more sexual in nature – words like sadism, masochism, and casanova are commonly used eponymous words, though most people simply use the words without being aware of their roots.

Here’s an excerpt from the article, interestingly-titled “the pervs behind the words” – you can read the whole article here.

Leopold von Sacher-Masoch

The words: masochism, sadomasochism

The obverse of a sadist is a masochist – someone who gets off on being abused – and no one could possibly deserve this label more than the person who inspired it, Leopold von Sacher-Masoch. Besides having a sexual fetish named after him, Sacher-Masoch is best known for writing Venus in Furs, a 19th century novel about a man’s willing submission to a cruel woman who treats him as her slave. It was based on a true story – his own. In 1869, Sacher-Masoch actually signed a contract with his mistress in which he agreed to be her slave for six months (with the stipulation that she had to allow him time to write).

The term masochism was coined during Sacher-Masoch’s lifetime, and he was understandably not pleased. The man was a great writer, feminist, and opponent of antisemitism, and yet this is how he goes down in history. It was a form of abuse that was not to his liking.