August 6, 2007

Further Adventures in Eponymity

I have serious doubts that 'eponymity' is a real word. 'Eponym' is, as are 'eponymous' and '-ist' and so forth. And since 'anonymity' is a word and 'eponym-' is of the same category, it follows that the quality of being eponymous ought to be describable as 'eponymity.' That fact doesn't cause many people to use it of course, but somehow, google searches for eponymity currently turn up my post of a few months ago (among some other things). Oddly, the top result is for a similar thing, a pointer toward this article about naming-afterness in science.

Robert Bunsen, whose name we associate with the burner, was a 19th-century German chemist of some renown. He worked on explosive organic arsenic compounds--leading to the loss of one eye--and, later, on gases from volcanoes, geysers and blast furnaces. With Kirchoff he contributed to our understanding of the meaning of spectra lines. (He also gained note for not bathing--one woman of polite society remarked that Bunsen was so charming that she would like to kiss him, but she would have to wash him first.) Bunsen invented many bits of laboratory apparatus: the spectroscope, the carbon-pole battery, an ice calorimeter and vapor calorimeter, the thermopile, and the filter pump--but not, as one might imagine, the gas burner that bears his name. Rather, the "Bunsen" burner was developed by Bunsen's laboratory assistant, Peter Desdega. Desdega himself likely borrowed from earlier designs by Aim� Argand and Michael Faraday. So why does Bunsen get the implicit credit? --And why do we know so little about Desdega that we cannot add much to his story?


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GR said...

so . . . i just coined eponymity for myself and googled the term to see how else it might be used. the way i wanted to use it is related to "eponyism" the Great Man tradition in the history of ideas.

Check out: Bent, H. A. (1965). The second law; an introduction to classical and statistical thermodynamics. New York: Oxford University Press.

I think another helpful usage would be the way that Dasgupta (2010) uses eponymity in relation to other cyber-identities.