The Grammarphobia Blog

The ubiquitous eponymous

Q: Lately, I’ve seen “eponymous” used more and more as a substitute for “ubiquitous” (or so I interpret the intention). These two words are not at all synonymous, correct?

A: Here’s a little poem: “Ubiquitous, eponymous, / The two are not synonymous.”

“Eponymous” comes from Greek roots meaning named after. It’s the adjective form of “eponym” – the person something is named after.

For example, Charles C. Boycott was the eponymous source of the word “boycott.” Or, if you were a pretentious critic, you might refer to “the eponymous heroine of the novel Anna Karenina.”

(“Eponym,” by the way, can also mean a proper name used generically, according to the Oxford English Dictionary.)

“Ubiquitous,” on the other hand, comes from a Latin word meaning everywhere. If something’s ubiquitous, it can be found everywhere, or so it seems. For example, “The misuse of ‘eponymous’ is ubiquitous.”

In fact, the legitimate use of “eponymous” is pretty ubiquitous too. Perhaps it’s time to give this overworked word a rest.

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