I had discovered that the term "Peeping Tom" comes from the story of Lady Godiva as being the only person who dared look at her as she rode naked through the streets. I then tried to find other words with similar historical significance but I only found defenestration. Defenestration was the term referring to the defenestrations of Prague that sparked two separate wars with two separate defenestrations. I am not sure if defenestration fits what I am looking for but I could not find other words with similar historical significance. Are these words unique?

  • 3
    Welcome to EL&U. A web search on eponym should be enough to get you started; there are many thousands of words and phrases which refer to a particular story (factual or not), from Adam's apple to Zoot suit riot.
    – choster
    Aug 25, 2015 at 21:28
  • 1
    If you find an explanation for 'the real McCoy' claiming to be authentic, make sure it's the genuine article. Aug 25, 2015 at 21:39
  • Etymological explanations for things like "the real McCoy" tend to be fanciful just-so stories. Count me as a doubting Thomas.
    – deadrat
    Aug 25, 2015 at 21:49

2 Answers 2


If you google on "historical allusion", you will find a lot of words with similar historical significance, e.g.:

  • you, too Brutus!

  • Potato chips are my diet's Achilles heel.

  • He was a Good Samaritan yesterday when he helped the lady start her car.

  • John Travolta in "Grease" was most girl's Apollo.
  • The club decided to boycott any cosmetics company that tested products on animals. (Captain Charles Cunningham Boycott was an English land agent in Ireland. In 1880, in the midst of controversy over the “Irish Land Question”, he and his family were ostracized by the community).
  • Perhaps I live in the pretentious part of town, but I've always heard et tu, Brute? rather than you too, Brutus?
    – Anonym
    Aug 25, 2015 at 22:20
  • @Anonym - "Et tu, Brute" or "Tu quoque, [mi] fili" are supposed to be Caesar last words (both in Latin). Some other sources mention the greek sentence "καὶ σὺ τέκνον. English or American people mostly use "Et tu, Brute" because of its occurrence in William Shakespeare's play Julius Caesar. However, I personally use "Tu quoque, fili"
    – Graffito
    Aug 25, 2015 at 22:55
  • @Graffito. 'Boycott' is the perfect example. +1
    – John Mack
    Nov 7, 2015 at 12:19

Many terms in English have a well-known history.

We are not allowed to create lists so I'll offer just one example.

"to turn a blind eye"

To knowingly refuse to acknowledge something which you know to be real.


Admiral Horatio Nelson is supposed to have said this when wilfully disobeying a signal to withdraw during a naval engagement.

The Phrase Finder

You may also be interested in an etymology dictionary, for example Online Etymology Dictionary

  • I am familiar with the Online Etymology Dictionary but did not simply want the history of the word. There are some words that the dictionary gives a story or anecdote as its origin and many more that are just given the timeline, transitions, and transformations of the word. Your example of "to turn a blind eye" is the kind of thing I am looking for but preferably not a phrase. Thank you very much for the help.
    – SophArch
    Aug 25, 2015 at 21:30

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