The zinnia is named for Johann Gottfried Zinn (1727-1759), a German botanist and physician who was a professor of medicine at Gottingen University. Zinn accomplished much during his short life, including completion of an influential text on the anatomy of the eye, published in 1753.
Zinn’s name was immortalized by the Swedish botanist Carolus Linnaeus, who named the zinnia genus after him. Zinn’s life was reminiscent of the life of the Zinnia species elegans, which grows profusely and blooms but quickly succumbs to the first frost. Dr. Zinn died at age thirty-two, but his brief career had been productive as a botanist and a physician.
There are fifteen species of zinnias. The tall forms, with showy, variously colored flowers called zinnia elegans, native to Mexico and the Southwest, are particularly widely cultivated.
The zeppelin, long and cylindrical, was a majestic sight in the air, but a catastrophic sight when it fell and burned with a great loss of life.
The zeppelin’s creator was Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin (18381917), a German army officer who visited the United States during the Civil War to see the balloon operation of the Union forces. He carried a letter of introduction to Abraham Lincoln in his right pocket and a letter to Robert E. Lee in his left pocket, just in case he should be caught by the Confederates. Some say that he served a stint in the Union Army.
Zeppelin made balloon ascents in St. Paul, Minnesota, inspiring him to devote himself to balloons that could be steered and driven by power. In 1900, after thirty years of experimentation, he was able to fly a Zeppelin (now so called) for twenty minutes. He thereupon founded the Zeppelin Company, which produced during its lifetime about a hundred aircraft. His goal was to convince the German government of the practicality of these balloon-type airplanes during wartime. His persuasive powers and his demonstration of zepplins were effective; the German government agreed that these airships had military value. During World War I, Zeppelin built many zeppelins, some used to bomb Paris and London. But these dirigibles, as they came to be called, were slow-moving and poorly maneuverable. They were not an important factor in the German military.
In 1891, Zeppelin retired from the German army with the rank of general. Thereafter, he devoted himself to his primary interest — the making of dirigible airships of rigid construction. Zeppelin died in 1917, twenty years before his zeppelin the Hindenburg went up in flames on
May 6, 1937, at the Naval Air Station, at Lakehurst, New Jersey, killing 36 of the 97 persons aboard. It was a grave moment for the zeppelin, which shortly thereafter became obsolete.
If zeal is defined as earnest enthusiasm, especially for a cause, why is a zealot considered a fanatic? Because the original Zealots were dedicated to protecting a piece of ground, even at the expense of their lives.
The Zealots, first-century fundamentalists, were a Jewish sect founded by Judas of Gamala, who fiercely fought for God’s law against the Romans, who opposed it. After the Romans razed Jerusalem — despite the fanatic defense of the Zealots in A.D. 70 — a thousand of them bravely held out on the great rock on the edge of the Judean desert. It was the site of Herod the Great’s palace, now known as Masada.
When the heroic stand by the Zealots appeared doomed, and only 960 Zealots remained to face the 6,000-man Tenth Roman Legion, their leader, Eleazar ben Ya’ir, persuaded them to draw lots to select ten men to kill the remaining defenders. Each of these ten finally slew nine fellows and then punched his sword through his own body. The Zealots preferred to die as free men than to live as slaves.
Charles Anderson Worsley (1809-1897), second Earl of Yarborough, was a knowledgeable card player and was quite successful at the game, especially at bridge. He would wager a bet with his card-playing companions of 1,000 to 1 against receiving a hand in which no card was higher than nine. He did very well with the wagers because the actual mathematical odds are 1,827 to 1 against, giving him a healthy percentage in his favor. In 1900, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word yarhorough was admitted into respectable dictionaries.
The opposite of a yarborough is a hand in which all the cards are pictures. This hand is called a fairbanks, the name coming from the prominent actor Douglas Fairbanks Jr., whose greatest pleasure was to associate with members of the royalty, even if they were only faces on playing cards.
Who a yankee is has been answered differently throughout the years by different people. To most people of the world, a Yankee is an American. To most Americans, he is a descendant of old New England stock. But to Southerners, a Yankee is a Northerner — someone from north of the Mason-Dixon line. But during a period of national crisis, such as World War I, Americans are all Yankees.
The origin of the term yankee has been a matter of dispute among etymologists since the days of the Founding Fathers. Although no provable conclusion is available, some notions sound authoritative.
Yankee appears to have started life as a disparaging nickname for a Dutchman, and it is thought that it may represent Janke, a diminutive form of «John», perhaps used originally of the Dutch of New Amsterdam. The idea that enjoyed the largest following was that «Yankee» came from the epithet Jan Kees — a dialectal variant of John Kaas, which literally meant «John Cheese», an ethnic insult for a Hollander. Jan pronounced Yahn was «John», and cheese was the national product of Holland.
Another notion espoused by some word historians is that the Dutch living in New York applied the terms to the English — who had moved into Connecticut — viewing them as country bumpkins, and mockingly calling them Yankees. But the English during the Revolutionary War extended the meaning further. They attached what was construed as a belittling tag to all residents in the northern territory; Yankees became the British nickname for the colonists.
According to James Fenimore Cooper, Indians sounded the word English as Yengees: whence Yankee. In 1841 he appended a note in The Deerslayer. «It is singular there should be any question concerning the origin of the well-known sobriquet of ‘Yankee.’ Nearly all the old writers who speak of the Indians first known to the colonists make them pronounce ‘English’ as ‘Yengees.’ « But this corrupted pronunciation has not been otherwise substantiated. Other ideas abound — for example, that the word was derived from the Scottish yankie, «a gigantic falsehood», or from the Dutch vrijbuiten, meaning «freebooter» or «plunderer».
The War between the States gave the word Yankee a derisive twist. The Confederate soldiers didn’t call the federal troops Northerners or Unionists but Yankees, and, to underscore the lowest meaning of this term, they prefixed it with «damn». The federal soldiers were not just Yankees; they were «damn Yankees».
During World War II Yankees became known as Yanks in Europe. Today both terms persist.
The wisteria is a climbing woody vine clustered with drooping, pealike, purplish or white flowers. The name of this vine was given by Thomas Nuttal, curator of Harvard’s Botanical Garden, who made an error in spelling the name of the man he planned to honor. That man’s name was Wistar. But at the death of the honoree in 1818, the plant was named wisteria. Nuttal wrote in his Genera North American Plants IJ, «In memory of Casper Wistar, M.D., late professor of Anatomy in the University of Pennsylvania». But too late. Nuttal had already named the
plant wisteria. Later writers followed the error, thus perpetuating it. Purists tried to rectify the mistake, but to no avail.
Dr. Casper Wistar (1761-1818), a Quaker and the son of a prominent colonial glassblower in Philadelphia, studied medicine in Edinburgh then returned home to teach at the College and Academy of Philadelphia, which was merged into the University of Pennsylvania. He wrote America’s first anatomy book, and taught anatomy, midwifery, and surgery. His anatomical collection became the origin of the world-famous Wistar Institute of Anatomy and Biology, located in the heart of the university. Lie also became the president of the American Philosophical Society, succeeding Thomas Jefferson. His Sunday afternoon at-home gatherings attracted many of his friends who came to hear Wistar discourse on topics of interest.
Wistar’s great-nephew, Isaac Jones Wistar (1827-1905), wealthy entrepreneur, endowed the Wistar Institute.
Joshua Logan (1908-1988), a prominent producer-director-playwright, named a play of his The Wistaria Trees (1950) in a fruitless effort to have the public recognize the correct spelling of the honoree’s name. Wisteria is ingrained, however, in the spelling psyche of Americans and dictionaries perpetuate the misspelling.
The Winchester rifle was as much a part of the Wild West as the Colt, a pistol. The 73 Winchester, made in 1873, was the prototype of the Winchester rifles that followed, a gun used extensively in hunting.
Oliver Fisher Winchester (1810-1880) was an American industrialist for whom the gun he manufactured was named. Me organized the Winchester Repeating Arms Company and improved on the Henry and Spencer repeating rifles of the Civil War. Winchester produced a breechloading repeating rifle at his plant in New Haven, Connecticut, an amalgam of patents acquired from different inventors, and his name became a generic term for a repeating rifle.
The Winchester was the scourge of the frontier, and one story about the Fetterman massacre in 1866 says that two civilians armed with Winchesters killed as many Indians as the eighty soldiers without them. Winchester employed B. T. Henry, the inventor of the Henry repeating rifle, and later acquired the patent for the Hotchkiss bolt-action- repeating rifle. The company went on to manufacture many kinds of guns, but all were called Winchesters.
Winchester was a philanthropic man whose generosity was so appreciated by the people of Connecticut that they elected him lieutenant governor.
Oscar Hngal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde (1854-1900) was an Irish poet, playwright, and intriguing personality. Wilde had such a sharp tongue that many believed he out-Shawed Shaw.
Wilde’s life, however, was colored by his libel suit and imprisonment because of his altercation with the Marquis of Queensberry. Wilde was known for his homosexuality. In British slang, Wilde’s first name, Oscar, came to mean a homosexual, and Oscarizing and Oscar-Wilding meant active homosexuality.
Wilde’s lover was the son of the Marquis of Queensberry. When the Marquis accused Wilde of sodomy, Wilde brought a libel suit against him. The government then instituted criminal charges against Wilde based on «immoral conduct»; Wilde lost both suits. For the criminal act, Wilde was sentenced to prison, where he wrote De Profundis and The Ballad of Reading Gaol, works well appreciated by Wilde’s army of aficionados.
Wilde’s tongue was razor-edged. When a minor poet complained to Wilde that his poetry was receiving no reviews, that there was a «conspiracy of silence against him», and that he didn’t know what to do, Wilde replied, «Join it». To a chamber of commerce he remarked, «Niagara Falls would be more spectacular if it flowed the other way».
James Whistler, the famous painter whose Mother is a classic, engaged in a lively exchange with Wilde, who mentioned a certain clever remark and said, «I wish I had said it». Whistler, not to be outdone, replied, «You will, Oscar, you will». But Wilde’s incisive wit would not rest, for which we now have the word Wildean. «As for borrowing Mr. Whistler’s ideas», he wrote, «the only thoroughly original ideas I have ever heard him express have had reference to his own superiority as a painter over painters greater than himself».
Arthur Wellesly (1769-1852) was the first Duke of Wellington and one of Britain’s most renowned generals. The duke’s military experience is a tale of a successful strategist, from India to Waterloo, culminating in the crushing of Napoleon in 1815. After his military conquests, the duke became prime minister and was given the honorarium of commander- in-chief of the British forces for life.
Wellington, known as the Iron Duke, was honored in many ways. His name was given to a tree of the Sequoia family (the Wellingtonia), to the capital of New Zealand, and to a term in the card game NAP (a game devised in honor of Napoleon, in which a call of Wellington so that the caller is obliged to take all five tricks and wins or loses double).
His name was bestowed even on articles of clothing, such as the high boots worn by men of fashion, boots that had been required wear in the army. Although the boots came up above the knee, they were held down by a strap under the instep and were covered by the trousers. The boot was an elegant version of the military boot, with the top cut out at the back of the knee to allow freedom of action. «No gentleman», it was commonly said, «could wear anything but Wellington boots in the daytime». And then there were half-Wellingtons, which look somewhat like a pair of galoshes, also worn under the trousers. These boots, which came halfway up the calf of the leg, were made of patent leather and had a top of softer material.
A well-known story during that time was that Queen Victoria asked the duke for the name of the boots he was wearing. «The people call them Wellingtons», he replied, to which she remarked, «Impossible. I should like to know where you could find two Wellingtons».
Josiah Wedgwood was the source of many eponymous words, but foremost is «Wedgwood blue». Much of his pottery was graced with classical figures in white cameo relief on an unglazed background. Born in Burslem, Staffordshire, England, Wedgwood (1730-1795) was poor and uneducated. His family had a small pottery shop, but pottery was not much in demand. Most pottery was imported from Delft, in Holland, and the higher-quality pottery came directly from China. Wedgwood’s experiments led to a particularly refined green glaze. In 1759, he set up a factory at Ivy House in Burslem that was so successful that he soon needed larger quarters.
In 1769, Wedgwood, together with Thomas Bentley, built a factory called Etruria, where his experiments with ceramic glazes made him famous. Many of his designs on newly patented pottery were executed by a young sculptor named John Flaxman, who ultimately became the first professor of sculpture at the Royal Academy of Art. Wedgwood’s china became identified with the fine cream-colored porcelainlike household ware with which Wedgwood built his reputation. He invented jasperware and Queen’s ware, a household pottery named after Queen Charlotte. He also made advances in black basalt stoneware. The queen became enamored of his white stoneware, and her patronage attracted the attention of the rich, the famous, and the royal. Wedgwood’s fortune was assured.
Wedgwood’s children also did well. His son is credited with having discovered the basic principles of photography, long before the daguerreotype was even dreamed of. His daughter, Susannah, was the mother of Charles Darwin.
It may be apocryphal, but some word historians insist that John Keats was confused about the identity of the urn he described in his Ode to a Grecian Urn. This urn was nonexistent. According to the story, Keats had seen a Wedgwood imitation of a Greek vase. Thus inspired, he wrote:
Thou still unravished bride of quietness,
Thou foster-child of Silence and slow Time...
Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all
Ye know on earth and all ye need to know.