History: How the last name Boycott, a ruthless British feudal lord, became a verb

This term appears for the first time in the English dictionary, as boycott, from where the Spanish expression el boycott is derived

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Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images
Disclaimer: The translations are mostly done through AI translator and might not be 100% accurate.

It is heard almost every day around the world, it is associated with protests, obstructions and collective opposition to a product, an individual or a country.

It is resorted to by groups in order to hinder the development of social, economic or political measures that they consider unjust.

A term of universal character - boycott.

This term appears for the first time in the English dictionary, as boycott, from where the Spanish expression el boycott is derived.

But its origins are actually linked to one name - Charles Cunningham Boycott.

At the end of the 19th century, this veteran of the British army managed estates in the northeast of Ireland, when he clashed with the people who cultivated his land over the rental price.

The protest was not violent, but it left consequences.

Charles Cunningham Boycott was economically and socially isolated, without labor, causing his crops to fail.

The case was widely reported in the British media in 1880, using his surname to describe the tactics of the tenants.

Soon the expression boycott found in several different dictionaries.

'Captain' Boycott

Charles Cunningham Boycott was born in 1832 in Norfolk, England.

He was interested in the army, and in 1848 he enrolled in the Royal Military Academy, but a year later he was expelled for failing the class exam.

However, his family buys him an officer position in the regiment, which was a common practice in those years.

His interest in military life fades over time and he leaves the army three years later, intending to be a farmer.

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Boycott moved to Achill Island, near County Mayo in the northeast of Ireland, where he stayed for 17 years.

There he found fertile land and successfully farmed in a hostile and challenging environment.

However, he wanted to move to the mainland, closer to "civilization" and occupy better lands for agriculture.

And it is.

John Crichton, Duke of Erne, owned more than 15.000 acres in Ireland and in 1872 was looking for someone to manage his lands in County Mayo.

According to the contract, the manager would also receive 250 hectares for cultivation, a cottage with a barn and a boat house.

The duke wanted the English to be in management positions and take care of the lease of his estates.

According to biographers, Boycott believed that rulers and landowners had a "divine right".

He behaved selfishly, not paying attention to the opinion and advice of others.

Because of his firm rule and unpleasant personality, he was not popular among the tenant farmers.

He had no problem evicting those who were late in paying their rent, and he issued fines for the smallest transgressions, such as being late for work or letting an animal roam his land.

Fines often exceeded their wages.

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Sukog sa Agrarian league

In the late 1870s, Ireland was hit by a bad farming season.

Crops were failing and famine threatened, which particularly affected the tenant farmers, who were struggling to pay their rent.

The son of one of them from County Mayo formed the National Agrarian League in 1879 to fight for rent reduction.

The League was close to the Irish independence movement, but its ultimate goal was to allow farmers to own the land they farmed.

The tenants of the Duke of Erne's land asked for the rent to be reduced by a quarter, but the Duke approved that the rent be reduced by 10 percent.

He also allowed Boykot to collect all outstanding debts and evict those who owe.

Three families were evicted, which is why the Agrarian League decided to react.

Charles Stewart Parnell, League leader and MP, urged followers to "shun and despise at all times and in all places the one who casts out another being, and isolates him from the rest of the country, as if he were a leper."

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Charles Boycott was isolated.

No one wanted to buy and sell his products.

He could not cultivate the land or cooperate with the locals.

Even the postman no longer brought parcels.

As his products failed, several landowners took pity, collected money and organized a 50-member rescue team to help Boykot with the harvest.

More than 900 soldiers protected the farmers from possible violence from the locals.

Considering their numbers, movement and labour, the whole operation cost about £10.000 at the time, to save crops worth 30 times less.

A new word

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The Boycott affair became big news in Ireland, England and other English-speaking countries.

Across Ireland there were increasing reports of boycotts, and the measure dramatically empowered the peasants.

When the expression boycott and officially found in the dictionary, is not known.

It entered the Oxford English Dictionary in 1888.

Until then, there were no words that could adequately describe the action of isolating, intimidating and creating stereotypes and myths about something or someone.

Boycott has started to be used in other languages ​​and is used to describe all kinds of actions of this type, but it is mostly related to politics.

Charles Cunningham Boycott, the discredited "captain" returned to England a few months later.

He died in 1897, but his family name lives on.

See also this story

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