Geek Trivia

The Word “Boycott” Entered The English Language By Way Of?

Irish Farming Protests
The French Revolution
A U.S. Ban On British Goods
Iron Workers Striking
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Answer: Irish Farming Protests

The history of words, etymology, is a fascinating subject. Often times our knowledge of where a word originates is murky and a best guess. Other times we can, with extreme precision and a bit of interesting trivia along the way, pinpoint the exact moment in history where a word was born or took on a modern meaning.

In the case of the word boycott, to refuse to do business with a person or organization, we can wind back the clock to 1880 and see exactly when the word took on modern usage. In the late summer of 1880, the Irish Land League was actively trying to better the working conditions of Irish tenant farmers. At the same time a British agent, Captain Charles Boycott, was attempting to collect rent and crops from the tenants. The Irish Land League encouraged the farmers to forgo any kind of violence against the agent of the British land owners and to simply refuse to do any business with him.

In order to give the common people a simple word they could latch onto and rally behind, Father O’Malley, a prominent member of the Irish Land League, coined the term “boycott” as a verb to stand in for the action of refusing to do business with someone as a form of protest and ostracization from the community. The press picked up on the word and ran with it, and today Captain Charles Boycott is immortalized in that coinage.