Eponyms and Mickey

Eponym (from Greek, Eponymos, “name-giver”) is an name which provides the source for another item’s name (place/discovery/object etc.), and vice versa. For example – Achilles is an eponym (name-source) for “Achilles’ Heel”, and vice versa. There’s a narrower definition that says that eponym is a proper noun (names, like John, London etc.) that became a common noun (objects, like chair, wall, etc.) – for example, “sandwich” after the British earl. While the second definition sounds more accurate to me, Wikipedia maintains that the first one is the one, and for the purpose of this post we will settle for it. 

The list of eponyms is almost endless, it seems1: diseases named after the doctor that identified them (Parkinson), or after a famous patient (Lou-Gehrig’s disease, ALS), astronomical discoveries, name of places, name of laws, and many many more.

But this is all well known, maybe with the exception of the word “eponym” itself.

I came across this when I watched an old Seinfeld rerun. George wanted to get back at his boss, and plans how he can “slip him a Mickey”. He even has his own Mickey source. Jerry asks where one gets this Mickey, and that he can’t believe he’s even saying “Mickey”, so who is this Mickey?

mickey-finn-photo-domu-com-history-mapAt the late 19th century, there was this guy called Mickey Finn. He was a pickpocket and the owner of a local saloon in Chicago, by then the 2nd largest city in the US (today it’s 3rd), called “The Lone Star Saloon” (probably not the eponym for this Lone Star). He became famous at the early 20th century when he found new ways of turning a profit from his patrons. With the cooperation of his staff, he would spike the drinks of some of his clients, and when they passed out, he would rob them and throw them in an alley nearby. The victim would wake up, remembering nothing, thinking he probably had too much to drink, and went home. In 1903 Mickey was arrested  by police, and although he was not jailed for his actions, a special committee heard his case, and after hearing testimony from one of his waitresses, one Mary “gold tooth” Thornton, his liquor license was revoked, and he left town for a few years. Years later he was arrested again in Chicago for running a pub without a license.  As it happens in English, his name soon became a noun – a Mickey, and a verb – to Mickey someone, or to Mickey-Finn Someone.

A few years later, in 1918, more than a 100 waiters working in a Chicago hotel were arrested after they used to slip Mickeys to customers who haven’t tipped enough. It wasn’t the same Mickey – the point of the drug was not to neutralize the customer and rob him, but simply revenge. The original drug was Chloral Hydrate, a drug that is still used today as an anesthetic. These waiters used something called an antimony potassium tartare, that causes headaches, dizziness, vomiting, etc.

Since then, the name became generic slang to something that is added to someone’s drink – be it GHB or simply a laxative.


1 Maybe not endless, because Wikipedia tries to compile a comprehensive list of them. Good luck with it.


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