For the word quixotic, the English language is indebted to Don Quixote, the eponymous hero of the satire written by Miguel de Cervantes and published in Madrid in two parts, in 1605 and 1615.
Don Quixote was a visionary who, after reading books on knight errantry, believed he had to redress the wrongs of the world. This man from La Mancha was a humble, amiable character, but his wits were deranged. His baptismal name was Alonso Quijano, but in a mock ceremony of knighthood he assumed the name Don Quixote.
Quixote sallied forth on his nag, a rack of bones named Rocinante, accompanied by his squire, Sancho Panza, a short, pot-bellied rustic, untutored but shrewd. Quixote was involved in many adventures — more accurately misadventures — but his most famous was his tilting at windmills that he believed were giants. Eventually Quixote, worn out and disillusioned, returned to his home in La Mancha.
The adjective quixotic describes a person who is an impractical idealist with lofty visions but little common sense.
The poignant tale of the romantic cavalier Don Quixote de La Mancha and Richard Strauss’s powerful tone poem Don Quixote composed in 1897 is tragicomedy; it is not a farce.
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Of the many notorious traitors, Vidkun Quisling is the one whose name has entered the English vocabulary as a common word, and has continued its shameful denotation. Someone who is a traitorous puppet of the enemy, or more precisely, someone who aids and collaborates with the enemy, a renegade, is a quisling.
Quisling, bom in 1887 in Fryesdal, Norway, became an army officer, then worked in the diplomatic service. In 1933, he formed his own Norwegian fascist party, Norway’s National Unification Party, but he did not attract many followers. On April 8-9, 1940, Hitler invaded Norway, and Quisling proclaimed himself Norway’s premier.
While serving as the figurehead in this puppet government set up by the Nazis, Quisling committed unspeakable atrocities. He lived in the lap of luxury on an island near Oslo, in a mansion that contained the finest Norwegian art he could steal from the museums. But Quisling was never at ease. He was so nervous for his safety that he had 150 bodyguards and an official taster of all his foods.
Hnally the day of reckoning came. The war ended, and Quisling was arrested immediately, on May 9, 1945. He was charged with treason and
murder, found guilty, and shot by a firing squad on October 24 of that year.
Norway’s laws forbade capital punishment, but the law was changed just to execute Quisling.


John Sholto Douglas, the eighth Marquis of Queensberry (1844-1900), gave his name to a code of fair play for boxing. The marquis had a longstanding interest in boxing and, according to a quotation from the Duke of Manchester, was said to have «been the finest amateur boxer of his time». He was reputed to have knocked out a «gigantic cowboy» in California.
The actual rules were first formulated in 1876 by British amateur athlete John Graham Chambers under Queensberry’s supervision. Because Chambers performed yeoman service in devising the rules, some believe that his is the name that should have been honored instead of Queensberry’s.
The rules remained in effect from 1867 to 1929, when they were superseded by those issued by the British Boxing Board of Control. The Chambers rules included the three-minute round, the ten-second count after a knockdown, and, unquestionably the most important, the outlawing of fighting with bare knuckles. The proscribing of bare knuckles and the prescribing of boxing gloves saved the sport.
The first world championship bout in which gloves were used was staged at Cincinnati in 1885. At that time John L. Sullivan successfully defended his title against Dominick McCaffery.
The Queensberry rules are now a synonym for «fair play in any sport».


Pythagoras, the famous Greek philosopher and mathematician of the sixth century B.C., was born in Samos, off the coast of Asia Minor. As a mature man he immigrated to Croton, in southern Italy. Here he founded a brotherhood of religious-ethical orientation, which practiced strict self-discipline and vegetarianism. Pythagoreanism became politically influential in Croton, but was violently attacked throughout Italy, and the brotherhood broke into two groups. Neither branch had a long life.
Pythagoras taught transmigration of the soul and a doctrine that came to be known as the «harmony of the spheres». According to this doctrine, certain parameters characterizing the celestial bodies are related to one another «harmoniously» by a mathematical rule. Pythagoreanism has been a powerful force in the development of Western culture. It has creatively inspired philosophers, theologians, mathematicians, and astronomers (notably Copernicus and Kepler).
Schoolchildren are taught the Pythagorean theorem, that the square on the hypotenuse of a right-angled triangle is equal to the sum of the squares on the other two sides. Fewer students may remember that Pythagoras symbolized the divergent paths of virtue and vice by the twentieth Greek letter of the alphabet, Upsilon (υ).
Legend has it that Pythagoras used to write on a looking-glass in blood and place it opposite the moon, and the inscription that appeared reflected on the moon’s disc; that he tamed a savage Daunian bear by «stroking it gently with his hand»; that he subdued an eagle by the same means; and that he held absolute dominion over beasts and birds by «the power of his voice» or «influence of his touch».


Pyrrhus (319-272 B.C.), king of Epirus, a kingdom in northern Greece, engaged the Romans in a bloody battle at Asculum in 279 B.C. Pyrrhus’s troops defeated the Roman legions, but at a tragic cost. So many of his soldiers were lost — all his best officers and many men, the flower of his army — that Pyrrhus exclaimed, according to Plutarch, «One more such victory and I am undone». By the time Pyrrhus and his soldiers limped back to Epirus, the decimated Grecian army had been reduced from twenty-five thousand troops to eight thousand.
Pyrrhus was a great warrior, a second cousin of Alexander the Great, but he never succeeded in his hope of reestablishing the empire once ruled by his cousin. How Pyrrhus died is a matter of dispute among word detectives. Some say he was killed in a skirmish with the Romans at Argos; others say that he was killed by an angry mob at Argos after his attempts to capture the city failed; and still others maintain that he died a quite ignoble death from a tile that might have accidentally fallen from a roof.
A Pyrrhic victory, made at a staggering cost, is no joyous victory.


Pushkinism, in Russia, in the opinion of many critics, is the equivalent of Shakespearianism in England or Danteism in Italy. Pushkin established the techniques and provided the standards for the extraordinary development that took place in Russian arts and letters in the nineteenth century. He is generally regarded as the foremost Russian nationalistic poet. Although he was a writer from the past, the Russian communists «adopted» him for propaganda purposes.
Aleksandr Sergyevich Pushkin (1799-1837) was born in Moscow, educated at the lyceum at Tsarkoye Selo, and was employed by the foreign office at St. Petersburg. He lived a romantic life, but he was charged by the foreign office for writing subversive poetry and for affiliation with secret societies. He was punished by transfer, ultimately, to Odessa, where his love affairs with two married women (including the wife of his superior in the foreign office) occasioned some of his most passionate lyric poetry.
The secret police intercepted some of Pushkin’s letters, which they considered anti-Russian. He was dismissed from his post and sent into exile. But Pushkin had a protector in the form of Nicholas I, who pardoned him and placed him under his personal protection.
Pushkin fell in love with a sixteen-year-old girl, Natalie Goncharova. As his wife, she ran into heavy debt. When an affair between her and a Frenchman, Georges d’Athnes, became the subject of widespread gossip, Pushkin challenged the Frenchman to a duel. Pushkin was wounded by a pistol shot and died two days later.
The inventory of Pushkin’s writing consisted of romantic poems, dramatic poems, and narrative poems. Flis Boris Godunov was used by Mussorgsky for his opera. He worked on his masterpiece, Eugen Onegin, a verse novel, from 1823 to 1830. It had eight chapters, each of about fifty 14-line stanzas in iambic tetrameter. This magnificent work, which provided the story for Tchaikovsky’s opera of the same name, became the linguistic and literary standard against which the Russian literary developments of the nineteenth century were measured.


The comfort of many passengers in train journeys can be credited to George Mortimer Pullman (1831-1897), an American inventor and businessman. Pullman is best remembered for improving railway sleeping cars.
Pullman was born on March 3, 1831, in Brocton, New York, where he worked as a cabinetmaker until 1855. After a failed effort to operate a general store in Colorado, he went to Chicago and persuaded the Chicago and Alton Railroad to allow him to convert two-day coaches into sleeping cars. These cars he equipped with mattresses and blankets; they had washrooms and were lit by oil lamps, all the trappings of comfort.
In 1863, Pullman built the «Pioneer», the first car that became known as a pullman. The Pioneer became an important vehicle when the funeral party for Abraham Lincoln traveled on it to Illinois. The car was so large that bridges along the route had to be raised and railway platforms removed. Pullman built and operated a number of these cars, and, in 1867, with Andrew Carnegie, he organized the Pullman Palace Car Company, the nearest thing to a hotel on wheels. Eventually, the Pullman Palace Car Company became the largest railroad car business in the world.
Pullman built a town called Pullman, south of Chicago, inhabited mostly by his employees. Eventually the twelve thousand inhabitants sued him, claiming that his charges for rent and utilities far exceeded those of the surrounding area. The court ordered the properties sold to the inhabitants.
Before long, Pullman showed an even deeper animosity toward his employees. He discharged more than half of them and then rehired them at a much lower wage. Pullman brooked no interference from his employees, saying that they were not permitted to discuss with him any problem. He fired anyone who tried to talk with him about employment conditions. «The workers have nothing to do with the amount of wages they shall receive», he declared.
The American Railway Union announced a boycott against any railway employing Pullman cars. President Cleveland apparently was unsympathetic to strikers or boycotts. He ordered federal troops into Chicago to enforce an injunction imposed by the courts. Riots ensued, and people were killed. Eugene Debs, the president of the union, was jailed. Pullman endured. He broke the strike with the aid of a cavalry escort of a trainload of meat that passed through the strike line.
In 1947, the Supreme Court upheld an antitrust suit and ordered that the company be sold to a railroad syndicate. Although all this came to pass, sleeping cars are still called pullmans.


Joseph Pulitzer (1847-1911) was born in Hungary and immigrated to the United States in 1864 to serve in the Union Army. After his discharge, he settled in St. Louis, where he became a reporter for the Westliche Post, a German-language daily for which he did such an outstanding job that his popularity enabled him to be elected to the Missouri legislature. His next important move was to purchase the St. Louis Dispatch, which was in dire financial condition, and to merge it with the Post, giving it the combined name of St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The paper became a first-rank regional paper.
Pulitzer then changed location and papers. After moving to New York, he purchased the New York World, in which he introduced banner headlines and the sensational treatment of crime. The paper’s style of presentation was considered intemperate, and the vulgarity of his special features intensified as he went into a circulation war with William Hearst’s Journal. Although guilty of «yellow journalism» to involve this country in what turned out to be the Spanish-American War, the paper made a remarkable about-face and pursued such a strong anti-imperialist policy that Teddy Roosevelt became irate, and the government sued Pulitzer for libel.
Pulitzer’s will provided for some notable distributions, including the establishment of the Columbia University School of Journalism, which confers the Pulitzer Prizes.
The prizes, as prescribed by Pulitzer, covered many categories. A prize was to be awarded for new writing, drama, fiction, history; for local, national, and international reporting, editorial writing, news photography, cartooning, and meritorious public service performed by an individual newspaper. Additional prizes were for biography, poetry, and music. The prizes were awarded for the first time in 1917.
Originally the prizes were for $1,000, but they are now $3,000, except for public service in journalism, which is rewarded with a gold medal. The Pulitzer, as it is most often called, is widely regarded as the most prestigious award in its field.


Many name-words have been derived from the Greek Psyche, meaning «breath», hence life or the soul itself. The essence of psyche is one’s rational and spiritual being. Its derivatives range from psychiatrist to psychedelic to psychoanalysis to psychology.
Psyche, the youngest of three daughters of a certain king, was so beautiful that people stopped worshiping Venus and turned their adoration to this young girl. Venus was so enraged that she ordered her son, Cupid, to make Psyche fall in love with the ugliest creature he could find. But when Cupid saw her, he fell in love with her himself. He then transported Psyche to a fairy palace, visiting her nightly but departing at sunrise. Cupid warned her that she must refrain from trying to find out who he was.
When Psyche became lonely, she asked that her sisters be permitted to visit her. He consented. When her jealous sisters learned that Psyche had never seen her visitor, they terrified her into believing that he would turn into a serpent and creep into her womb and devour her and her baby. Psyche’s curiosity got the best of her, and so when she next went to bed, she took a lantern and a dagger with her. After Cupid had fallen asleep, Psyche lit the lamp, holding the dagger at the ready. But she beheld the beautiful features of the god of love, and was so startled that she let a drop of oil fall on his shoulder, thus awakening him. When Cupid realized that Psyche must know who he was, he rose and flew away.
Psyche wandered far and wide searching for her lover. She then became a slave of Venus, who imposed on her heartless tasks and treated her cruelly. But Cupid, despite his sudden exit, so desperately missed her that he made a clean breast of everything to Jupiter, who approved of Cupid’s union with Psyche. When Psyche approached the passage leading back to the upper world, she was given a jar and told not to open it. But curiosity again got the best of her, so she ignored the warning and opened the jar. Immediately she was overpowered by a deadly sleep from its contents.
Cupid found her and brought her back to life and carried her up to Olympus. The marriage of Psyche and Cupid was celebrated by all the gods, even by Venus. Psyche bore a daughter, Voluptas, which means «pleasure», and the three of them lived together happily ever after.


Proteus was the herdsman for Poseiden, Greek god of the sea. He had great powers of prophecy, and he lived in a huge cave and watched over his herds of sea calves. He prophesized only if seized. But no one could catch him because he would change himself into the shape of many other things. Changing his form, like the sea, was his means of avoiding capture. The only way he could be caught was to surprise him in his sleep.
Menelaus, king of Sparta, had exceeding difficulty in returning from Troy. His trip home took eight years. When he finally ran short of provisions, he was advised by a nymph that Proteus, if forced, could tell him the way home. Menelaus found the god in deep slumber, seized him, and held on despite Proteus’s successive transformations into a lion, a serpent, a leopard, a boar, water, and a tree. Proteus gave in and provided the information Menelaus wanted.
A person who can vary his attitude at will or is shifty and fickle is protean. In a complimentary sense, it may refer to someone blessed with versatile talents or a flexible nature.