Steve Brodie, a newsboy did on July 23, 1886, what people thought was impossible to do and still live. He jumped from the Manhattan side of the Brooklyn Bridge. And for that foolhardy leap, won a bet of $200.
According to The New York Times, Brodie sneaked around the Brooklyn Bridge guards, climbed to the lowest chord, and plunged into the water 135 feet below. Friends in a rowboat were waiting to rescue the twenty-three-year-old daredevil. Brodie was arrested for endangering his life and was severely reprimanded by a judge. One should bear in mind, however, that Brodie’s claim to have jumped off the bridge is questionable; although he was pulled from the water, no one actually saw him jump. Many people believe he never did it. The opinion of Boxing Commissioner William Muldoon, as reported in the New York Times, July 23, 1986, the 100th anniversary of the day Brodie supposedly jumped, was that his so-called exploit «was a fake and that an unbiased investigation had shown that by a clever bit of trickery with a dummy it had been made to appear that Brodie had made the leap». However, he used his fame from this purported leap to branch into acting (he was the subject of a hit play called On the Bowery) and other money-making ventures that kept him in the public spotlight for the rest of his life. In the 1983 gangster cinema The Bowery, Brodie was portrayed by the late George Raft. Brodie has been immortalized by the phrase to do a brodie, which is now proverbial for «to take a chance».
The slang term brodie represents a suicidal leap. A story that made the rounds is that Brodie met Jim Corbett’s father sometime before the Jim Corbett-John L. Sullivan prizefight and predicted that Sullivan would knock out his son. Mr. Corbett looked down at little Brodie and sneered, «So you’re the fellow who jumped over the Brooklyn Bridge». Brodie’s riposte was, «No, I jumped off of it». To which the senior Corbett remarked, «I thought you jumped over the bridge. Any damn fool could jump off of it».


Abraham Arden Brill (1874-1948) was born in Austria but came to the United States at an early age. He studied medicine at Columbia University and received his M.D. degree in 1903. Brill pursued his interest in psychoanalysis during his university studies, and, after graduation,
went to Europe to train under the master Sigmund Freud. As a proponent of psychoanalysis, he practiced in the United States for forty years.
Dr. Brill introduced Freudian psychoanalysis to the American medical profession. He sought to revolutionize the treatment of the mentally ill. Although Brill met with great resistance, he persisted. As a result, psychoanalysis became accepted as a new treatment technique. He founded the Psychoanalytic Society in 1911 in New York and served as its first president. In 1934 he became the first president of the Psychoanalytic Section of the Psychiatric Association.
Brill remained a close friend of Freud and for fifteen years translated most of his major works into English as well as some of Carl Jung’s works. Brill was also the author of several notable texts on psychoanalysis.


The system of writing and printing for the blind, known as Braille, is eponymous for Louis Braille, its inventor (1809-1852). Braille was blinded at age three. While playing in his father’s harness-repair shop in Coupvray, near Paris, he drove an awl through an eye. Soon after the other eye lost its sight.
There weren’t many useful jobs for blind people, but Braille’s father was determined to help his son find a life of usefulness; accordingly the boy needed a good education. To this end, Louis, until age ten, attended his village school with sighted children. His father then enrolled him in the Institution Nationale des Jeunes Aveugles for blind youth in Paris. Braille had learned the alphabet by feeling twigs formed in the shape of letters.
Books for the blind were scarce in those days, and those in the school library were very heavy. From those oversized books, some weighing twenty pounds, young Braille learned to read. The books had been developed at the Institution and consisted of enlarged, raised Roman letters, which was the only touch-reading technology then in existence. About half the blind children who tried to learn this method found it too difficult. Braille was a distinguished student and, in 1829, became a professor at the Institution.
The army at the time used a system of communication based on touch rather than sight, a primitive form of «night writing» invented by Charles Barbier, a captain of artillery in the army. The system consisted of twelve raised marks on paper that in the darkness could be passed along with no spoken word or illumination and which fingers could «read». The message was clear but simple, such as one dot for advance, two dots for lie low, three dots for take cover, and so on. It ignited Braille’s imagination.
Braille, when only fifteen years old, refined the system by using a six- dot cell, his pattern being two dots across and three down. This pattern lent itself to sixty-three combinations, which represented all the letters in the French alphabet, except «W» (French like Latin had no «W», although later at the request of an Englishman one was added), together with punctuation and contractions and a system for musical notations. A whole world opened up for the blind.
Braille’s system of communication received a warm reception throughout France, and he was also hailed for his musical compositions. (Braille displayed some talent with the piano, but he became an accomplished organist.) Nonetheless, doom set in when a new director at the institution decreed that the old system had to be used and not Braille’s. Despite that setback, Braille continued improving his system, including notational variations for music.
Perhaps Braille’s system might have passed into oblivion but for a young blind girl, Therese von Kleinert, who, after performing at the organ before a large gathering of cultured people, announced, as the applause subsided, that the applause really belonged to Louis Braille, the inventor of the system that she used. By then he had already died, unheralded, of tuberculosis, two days after his forty-third birthday.
Braille’s body was borne to Coupvrav for burial. The newspapers in Paris ignored Braille’s death and made no mention of it. The task of educating the blind came to a dismal standstill. But fortunately there was a turnaround in favor of Braille’s method, including adoption of the Braille system by the Institution in 1854, two years after Braille’s death, so that today the magic dots convey a truly universal language for the blind.
On June 30, 1952, Braille’s body was exhumed and transported to Paris and carried up the steps of the Pantheon, to receive the highest honor that France can bestow upon its dead — burial among the most famous heroes of the nation.


A boycott is a refusal to do business or have other contacts with a person, a corporation, or a country. The word boycott, with a small «b», surfaced in 1880 when Captain Charles Cunningham Boycott (1832-1897), an English land agent for the estates of the Earl of Erne at Connaught in County Mayo, Ireland, evicted poverty-stricken tenant farmers who could not pay their rent. The farmers had been struck by a ruinous failure of crops and had little money.
Captain Boycott was made a test case by the great Irish nationalist leader, Charles Parnell. Parnell’s strategy was to ostracize any landlord who refused to lower rents or any tenant who took over a farm of an
evicted tenant «by isolating him ... as if he were a leper of old ... by leaving him strictly alone». Boycott then found himself the target of total ostracism. His servants left, his farmhands left, and he was deprived of all mail delivery. Storekeepers refused to sell to him; people jeered at him and hung him in effigy. Further, marauders tore down his fences and turned his cattle loose. Life became unbearable, so miserable, that Boycott finally gave up and fled to England. Thus Boycott was responsible for the first boycott.
People came to call this action a boycott, which became a very powerful term, especially when used by unions against employers regarded as unfair. A refusal to do business with the employer was called a primary boycott. Influencing other people to join the boycott was termed a secondary boycott. However, this latter maneuver was declared illegal by Federal United States courts.
Boycott’s fortitude must have returned to him or else he became lonely for Ireland, for he later visited Ireland on one of his holidays. At a public gathering in Dublin, Boycott was recognized — and cheered!
Although to boycott and to send to Coventry mean the same thing, the latter expression arose much earlier in time. At the beginning of the war between Charles I and Parliament, Royalist prisoners were sent to the Cromwell stronghold of Coventry for safekeeping. The citizens of Coventry, especially the women, shunned them; they were soundly ostracized.


The Bowie knife, once called an Arkansas toothpick, is a dangerous weapon. It is a dagger, strongly made, with a one-edged blade of some twelve inches in length that curves to a point. It has a heavy guard of horn between the hilt and the blade. Whether James Bowie or his brother Rezin dreamed it up is uncertain. James is given credit for it because he made the weapon famous when he, armed with only his knife, fought and killed a man in Natchez who wielded a pistol.
Bowie became a national hero in 1836 when he, together with Davy Crockett and some two hundred other soldiers, fought gallantly against the overwhelming Mexican forces that stormed the Alamo, an abandoned mission house in San Antonio. For thirteen days these brave men fought and suffered. Bowie, confined to a sick-bed, fought from his cot with only a knife in hand. But sheer numbers finally triumphed. Bowie, Crockett, and everyone else at the Alamo was killed in hand-to-hand combat by General Santa Anna’s troops; they died bravely.
Bowie, bom in 1799, settled in Texas in 1828, when it was still Mexican land. He became friendly with the Mexican vice-governor, married his daughter, and acquired Mexican land grants. He became a Mexican citizen. Bowie was known to be unethical; he did not hesitate to dupe Mexicans. Bowie became interested in the restrictions Mexico imposed on American migration. He became a colonel in the Texas Rangers and fought with distinction in several battles. He joined up with Colonel William B. Travis in his last gallant hurrah — the Alamo.
Bowie has become a legend through Western song and folk tales. The knife that he or his brother Rezin designed continued in demand long after Bowie’s death. The famous Sheffield steelworks in England marketed large quantities for use in Texas.


was a strict disciplinarian who prescribed that his son be a physician. The father’s prescription was filled only partly, however. Although Thomas became a physician, he could not bear to see anyone in pain — and so gave up his practice.
Young Thomas then spent his time crusading against immoral activities and influences by, among other things, joining anti-vice organizations, which became a natural foundation for his lifework on the Isle of
Wight. He had concluded that modest ladies should be enabled to read Shakespeare without blushing.
In 1818 Bowdler published a diluted ten-volume edition of Shakespeare’s works «in which nothing is added to the original text; but those words are omitted that cannot with propriety be read aloud in a family». He had toned down suggestive dialogue and snipped off scenes that he thought were too explicit, insisting that only references that might «raise a blush on the cheek of modesty» had been excised.
Bowdler believed that the language of the seventeenth century was not necessarily acceptable in the nineteenth. For example, the words of Hamlet — «transform honesty from what it is to be a bawd» — were changed to «to debase honesty from what it is», and his words with Ophelia became decorous. Lady Macbeth’s poignant «Out, damn’d spot!» became «Out, crimson spot!» The speeches of some main characters — Hamlet, Macbeth, Falstaff — were dismembered beyond recognition, whereas others were so diminished that they fell into oblivion (the lascivious Doll Tearsheet, for example, who makes her appearance in Henry IV).
This expurgated version of Shakespeare’s works, The Family Shakespeare, was published in Bath in 1818 and contained 110 name in the preface and no name of an editor. A reader did not know to whom to attribute the revision. In future editions, Thomas Bowdler was listed as editor. And yet the Bowdler family and friends knew that Henrietta Maria, or Flarriet, Thomas’s sister, was the phantom author of the original volume. Why the anonymity? It has been suggested that because Harriet was a prim and proper spinster, she would not be expected to know, and would not want anyone to know, that she understood obscene words and expressions. Hence she hid her authorship.
Although Bowdler thought that the public would be pleased with his purge of Shakespearean obscenities, he was quite shocked to learn that his excisions did not receive universal acceptance. He replied to his critics: «And should I be classed with the assassins of Caesar, because I have rendered these invaluable plays for the perusal of our virtuous females?» He added, in capital letters, «IF ANY WORD OR EXPRESSION IS OF SUCH A NATURE THAT THE FIRST IMPRESSION WHICH IT EXCITES IS AN IMPRESSION OF OBSCENITY, THAT WORD OUGHT NOT TO BE SPOKEN, OR WRITTEN, OR PRINTED, AND IF PRINTED, OUGHT TO BE ERASED».
Bowdler’s eraser skipped none of Shakespeare’s works. He expurgated all of them. He then turned his purifying scalpel on Gibbon’s History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, excising that marvelous masterpiece by removing «all passages of an irreligious or immoral tendency».
For attacking the classics of literature, Bowdler has been immortalized as the world’s best-known self-appointed literary censor. His name lives in the language in many forms. The dictionary definition of bowdlerize,
a verb sprouted from his name (other growths are bowdlerism and bowdlerization), is «to radically expurgate or prudishly censor» a book by omitting words or passages regarded as indecent, which, of course, removes its vitality and «spice».


Boulangism is a wave of political hysteria that swept over France, especially in Paris, during the years 1886-1889. Its purpose was to support General Georges Ernest Jean Marie Boulanger (1837-1891), a military leader who advocated revenge on Germany. As Minister of War (1886—1887), he achieved some popularity for army reforms, but more particularly for his handsome military figure. When he was relieved of his command, his approval rating did not drop; it increased. Boulanger acquired the title Man on Horseback because he habitually appeared before the public mounted on a magnificent charger. He became a favorite with the royalists, and the movement called boulangism to punish the Germans for what they had done to France during the war of 1870 developed a long line of followers.
When Boulanger was not reappointed to his cabinet post, his popularity was such that almost everyone believed that he could make himself dictator of France whenever he wanted. But the golden opportunity slipped by and disappeared when he was publicly proved a liar and a coward. When a warrant for his arrest was signed, Boulanger fled the country. His crimes against the Republic and subsequent flight lost him his supporters. Two years later the Man on Horseback, who might have been dictator, on a blustery day and all alone, went to the cemetery in which his mistress was buried in Brussels and there shot himself, falling dead over her grave.


The story behind the naming of the bougainvillaea started in 1766 with a three-year journey of discovery around the world, from which the woody vine of the four-o’clock family was brought home to France. This plant, which was named for the explorer Louis Antoine de Bougainville, is recognized by its inconspicuous flowers surrounded by brilliant red or purple bracts. Many people regard the bougainvillaea as the handsomest of subtropical vines. The plant is often cultivated in greenhouses but can be grown outdoors in the semi-tropical parts of the United States.
Bougainville (1720-1811) was head of the first French naval forces to circumnavigate the world (1766-1769). He was accompanied on his journey by astronomers and naturalists who named the woody climbing plant
Bougainvillaea in his honor. They visited Tahiti, the New Hebrides, and the Solomon Islands, the largest of which is named Bougainville after him.
Bougainville served as aide-de-camp to General Louis de Montcalm in Canada during the French-Indian War and under Frangois Joseph Paul, Comte de Grasse in the American Revolution. Bougainville was a man of many interests and abilities. His two-volume work on integral calculus earned him a membership in the Institut de France. In later years, Napoleon made him a senator, count of the empire, and member of the Legion of Honor.


James Boswell (1740-1795) has been regarded as the foremost biographer in English literature. His great masterpiece was The Life of Samuel Johnson, the great compiler of the English dictionary. Thomas Macaulay ranked the biography first among biographies of all time.
Boswell was born in Edinburgh and educated there and in Glasgow, and the University of Utrecht in Holland. He met Johnson (1709-1784) in 1763 and became such a devoted admirer that his life was shaped around Johnson. Boswell toured the Hebrides with Johnson and published the journal of a Tour to the Hebrides with Samuel Johnson, L.L.D.
Ten years after the men met, Johnson arranged for the admittance of Boswell into the Literary Club that Johnson had founded. There Boswell was introduced to some of the greatest minds of England: Edmund Burke, Oliver Goldsmith, Sir Joshua Reynolds, and David Garrick.
The Life of Samuel Johnson (1791) was not published until seven years after Johnson’s death.
Boswell inherited a substantial estate, which enabled him to do as he liked. And what he liked were matters of questionable morality. He was a man of intemperate habits, and it is said that his vanity often took him to the point of absurdity.
A biographer is often called a Boswell, and from Boswell’s name has come the verb Boswellize, meaning «to write a hero-worshiping biography».


Lucrezia and Cesare Borgia, sister and brother, were members of an unscrupulous family in which compassion and humane behavior played no part. There is little doubt in the minds of historians that they committed many murders, usually by poisoning, although this belief has never been proved by hard evidence. The Borgias were supposed to have possessed a secret, fatal recipc that they served to foes and unwanted guests alike. Drinking a toast to the health of the Borgias was chancy because the drinker might be about to lose his.
Cesare (1476-1507) and Lucrezia (1480-1519) were children of Pope Alexander VI. The English word nepotism, «favoritism shown on the basis of family relationship», can be traced directly to this misuse of official position. The Latin word nepos, «a descendant, especially a nephew», was given to the illegitimate children of popes. Pope Alexander VI in civilian life was Rodrigo Borgia, and he turned out to be a good family provider. He installed his son Cesare as an archbishop when the boy was
only sixteen years old. His young nephew Giovanni was given a cardinal’s hat. Talk about family favoritism!
To dine at the Borgias became known as a great but sometimes fatal honor. Sir Max Beerbohm noted in Hosts and Guests: «I maintain that though you would often in the fifteenth century have heard the snobbish Roman say, in a would-be off-hand tone, I am dining with the Borgias tonight,’ no Roman was ever able to say, ‘I dined last night with the Borgias.’»