How would you like it if your name became an entry in the dictionary? Would you feel honored and famous, or woebegone?

Our friends at Merriam Webster give us some suggestions of people who became things, or expressions, in a very famous way. And just some common names attributed to things.

Remember Doubting Thomas? All of you biblical scholars know that one. Thomas was the disciple who had to see and feel Jesus to believe he was actually there.

You don’t hear this much anymore, but John Q. Public also derives from a real name, the common name of John. Nobody knows what the Q stands for.

Joe Six-Pack. You can see him, can’t you? A blue-collar worker, probably, with his beverage of choice. Joe also lends his common name to Joe Blow, Joe Schmo and Joe Doakes.

John Hancock, another John — but a real one. We all know this one, the governor of Massachusetts who signed the Declaration of Independence with the biggest signature. All around the country, people who make their signature are said to give their John Hancock.

Typhoid Mary. Here’s another real person who became famous in a really bad way. History tells us that Mary Mallon, who worked as a cook in the New York City area, had no symptoms of typhoid, but infected many, many other people. She was called a carrier. She was placed in involuntary medical isolation, and her name given to all actual typhoid carriers. Then it started to refer to anyone who spread any kind of undesirable thing.

John Barleycorn is a really old idiomatic name. It stands for the personification of alcoholic liquor. It comes from a 17th century song.

Sam Hill. As in “What in the Sam Hill were you thinking?” It’s a euphemism for tarnation or hell. There was no real Sam Hill.

Nosy Parker. It’s a person who pries into everybody’s business, and it comes from a story written in 1890 about a lady who refers to a man who asks too many questions.

Nervous Nellie. It was first directed to a former Secretary of State named Frank B. Kellogg, who was described in a Baltimore paper as a man of extreme caution. Nobody can explain the “Nellie” connection.

Good Catholics know that the origin of Hail Mary is in a prayer to the Virgin Mary for help.

But all the football fans recognize the Hail Mary as a long pass into the end zone in an effort to make a score as time runs out. Sometimes it really works, as we have seen from time to time.

Peeping Tom. You don’t hear this much anymore, because the Toms who peep into other’s windows are now generally called stalkers.

The story goes that when Lady Godiva made her famous naked ride through the streets of town, townspeople were supposed to stay indoors or close their eyes. As she rode by, one fellow, named Tom, kept his eyes open, of course.

Moral of this story. Be careful what you do. You might be the signatory of another sayings.

Cathy Gillentine is a Daily News columnist. She may be reached at

(2) comments

Jarvis Buckley

Mums the word.😀

Miceal O'Laochdha

Captain Boycott would get my vote for this list.

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.

Thank you for Reading!

Please log in, or sign up for a new account and purchase a subscription to read or post comments.