Interesting word in the news


The recent news of consumers threatening to boycott certain stores or businesses because of political frustration led us to look up the word — not because of its meaning but to understand its origin.

We were surprised to find that the word boycott, now written with a lower case “b,” originated during the Irish Land War in the fall of 1880.  At the time, tenant farmers in rural Ireland had a poor harvest and were seeking to pay lower rents.

According to the blog of the Oxford English Dictionary, the Irish Land League was working for better conditions for the farmers and using tactics to push back against the landlords and their agents.  Captain Charles C. Boycott, an agent for one of the land owners, refused to meet the terms of the farmers and the league and became the focus of tensions.

When conditions reached a boiling point, almost every servant or farmer at the estate  where Boycott worked was driven off and told not to come back. Newspapers retaliated and urged the public shunning of landlords and their agents. Boycott was unable to find workers to work the harvest, businesses refused to sell to him and his area community shunned him. By December 1880, the Illustrated London News noted that to “Boycott” had become an active verb, meaning to intimidate or “to taboo.”

The word and the action represented were adopted by other European languages, including French boycotter (1880), German boycottieren (1893; now boykottieren), Dutch boycotten (1904), and Russian bojkotirovat (1891).


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