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Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2015

Basic Biittner : The Names Behind ...

Friday, November 20, 2009

The word "eponym," according to the dictionary, is a noun meaning "a person after whom a discovery, invention, place, etc., is named or thought to be named."

I bring this up because one of my personal "quirks" is that when I see someone's name as part of a product, or institution, or a phrase, I am curious about the "name behind" said product, etc.

This came to a head for me the other day when I said something about "Murphy's Law," and found myself wondering, "Who IS Murphy, anyway?"

Well, that got the ball rolling, so for those of you who care - as well as those who don't - I am going to inform you in this column who some of these eponymous people are.

"Murphy's Law" is the name often given to a situation where "anything that can go wrong, will," and is apparently named for American aerospace engineer Edward Murphy (1918 -1990). From 1948 to 1949, a project known as MX981 took place on Muroc Field (later renamed Edwards Air Force Base) for the purpose of testing the human tolerance for g-forces during rapid deceleration. During the tests, questions were raised about the accuracy of the instrumentation used to measure the g-forces that the human "guinea pig," a Captain Stapp, was experiencing. Edward Murphy proposed using electronic strain gauges attached to the restraining clamps of Stapp's harness to measure the force exerted on them by his rapid deceleration.

The sensors provided a zero reading; however, it became apparent that they had been installed incorrectly, with each sensor wired backwards. It was at this point that a disgusted Murphy made his pronouncement. In an interview conducted by Nick Spark, George Nichols, another engineer who was present, stated that Murphy blamed the failure on his assistant after the failed test, saying, "If that guy has any way of making a mistake, he will." Nichols' account is that "Murphy's law" came about through conversation among the other members of the team; it was condensed to "If it can happen, it will happen," and named for Murphy, in mockery of what Nichols perceived as arrogance on Murphy's part.

So, the origin of the phrase "Murphy's Law," like many of the other items we'll mention in today's column, is disputed. American aerospace engineer Edward Murphy (1918 -1990).

The remainder of today's column will be devoted to eponymous food offerings:

Fettuccine Alfredo -- Alfredo di Lelio was an early-20th-century Italian chef who invented the dish for his wife in 1914--1920 at his Roman restaurant and popularized it among tourists.

Eggs Benedict -- at least two main accounts exist for this one. Lemuel Benedict, a New York stockbroker, claimed to have gone to the Waldorf Hotel for breakfast one day in 1894 while suffering a hangover. He asked for a restorative in the form of toast, bacon, poached eggs, and Hollandaise sauce on the side. The famous ma"tre d' Oscar of the Waldorf took an interest in Benedict's order, and adapted it for the Waldorf menu, substituting English muffins and ham, adding truffles, and naming it after Benedict. The other version: in 1893, Charles Ranhofer, head chef of Delmonico's, created the dish for Mr. and/or Mrs. LeGrand Benedict, New York stockbroker and socialite.

Bing cherry -- Oregon horticulturist Seth Luelling (or Lewelling) developed the cherry around 1875, with the help of his Manchurian foreman Bing, after whom he named it.

Caesar salad -- Caesar Cardini (1896--1956) or one of his associates created this salad at the restaurant of the Hotel Caesar in Tijuana.

Clementine oranges -- named for Père Clément Rodier, a French monk living in North Africa at the beginning of the 20th century. Allegedly, he either found a natural mutation of the mandarin orange which he grew, or he created a hybrid of the mandarin and the Seville oranges. The fruit, however, may have originated long before in Asia.

German chocolate cake -- originally known as German's Chocolate Cake -- the 1950s American cake took its name from Baker's German's Sweet Chocolate, which in turn took its name from Sam German who developed the sweet baking chocolate (between milk and semi-sweet) in 1852.

Graham crackers -- Sylvester Graham, 19th-century American Presbyterian minister and proponent of a puritan lifestyle based on teetotalling, vegetarianism, and whole wheat.

Granny Smith apples-- Granny Smith is an apple originating in Australia from 1868 from a chance seedling propagated by Marie Ana (Granny) Smith, hence the apple is named after her.

Chicken à la King -- William King of Philadelphia has been credited in 1915 (upon his death) as the inventor of this dish.

Margarita -- there are many claims for the name of this tequila/lime/orange liqueur cocktail. Dallas socialite Margarita Samas said she invented it in 1948 for one of her Acapulco parties; Enrique Bastate Gutierrez claimed he invented it in Tijuana in the 1940s, and named it for actress Rita Hayworth. Hayworth's real name was Margarita Cansino, and another story connects the drink to her during an earlier time when she was dancing in Tijuana nightclubs under that name.

McIntosh apple -- John McIntosh (1777--1846), American-Canadian farmer who discovered the variety in Ontario, Canada in 1796 or 1811.

Dr Pepper -- named after Charles T. Pepper. The soft drink was invented by pharmacist Charles Atherton in 1885 at a Waco, Texas drugstore owned by Wade Morrison, and is said to be named for Morrison's first employer, who owned a pharmacy in Virginia.

Baby Ruth candy bar -- most likely, Babe Ruth (1895--1948) was the inspiration for the name. Although the Curtiss Candy Co. has insisted from the beginning that the candy bar was named after a daughter of Grover Cleveland (and this is the story I have believed and spread hroughout the tears). Ruth Cleveland died in 1904 at the age of 12, while the Baby Ruth was introduced in 1921 right at a time when George Herman Ruth, Jr. had become a baseball superstar. It is interesting to note that very early versions of the wrapper offer a baseball glove for 79 cents. Babe Ruth's announced intent to sue the company is probably what drove and perpetuated the dubious cover story.

Salisbury steak -- Dr. James H. Salisbury (1823--1905), early U.S. health food advocate, created this dish and advised his patients to eat it three times a day, while limiting their intake of "poisonous" vegetables and starches.

Sandwich -- John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich (1718--1792) did not invent the sandwich. Meat between slices of bread had been eaten long before him. But as the often-repeated story goes, his title name was applied to it c. 1762, after he frequently called for the easily-handled food while entertaining friends. Their card games then were not interrupted by the need for forks and such.

Crepes Suzette -- said to have been created for then-Prince of Wales Edward VII on January 31, 1896, at the Café de Paris in Monte Carlo. When the prince ordered a special dessert for himself and a young female companion, Henri Charpentier, then 16 (1880--1961), produced the flaming crepe dish. Edward reportedly asked that the dessert be named after his companion (Suzette), rather than himself. However, Charpentier's claim has been disputed.

Chicken Tetrazzini -- named for operatic soprano Luisa Tetrazzini, the "Florentine Nightingale" (1871--1941), and created in San Francisco.

Tootsie Rolls were named for Clara "Tootsie" Hirshfield, the small daughter of Leo Hirshfield, developer of the first paper-wrapped penny candy, in New York, 1896.

More eponyms to come in future columns ...