How Jules Leotard, Adolphe Sax, Roy Jacuzzi and co. immortalised their names in the dictionary
A wonderfully entertaining and idiosyncratic tour of the lives of those whose names have become part of the language, from Joseph Guillotin to Joseph B. Frisbie.
How did the Texas cattle rancher Samuel A. Maverick end up contributing his name to the language? What is the connection between a rather unflattering item of clothing and the French trapeze artist Jules Léotard? Which filling did the Earl of Sandwich opt for when he made his great culinary invention? And was there really a Sir Oswald Binge whose week-long feasts were notorious for their excess?
The Reverend Guppy's Aquarium answers these and many other questions drawn from the remoter corners of the English language, exploring the lives of an extraordinarily diverse range of people who happen to have one thing in common: by chance or deliberately, they have left their names deeply embedded in the language and consciousness of future generations. Each figure has something to tell us about a particular moment of history, or a discovery or invention, whether it's László Biró and his pioneering writing implement, or Mercédès Jellinek, who lent her name to a certain make of car, or Étienne de Silhouette who, having fallen from grace at the French court, spent much of the later part of his life mournfully cutting out paper shapes. Not to mention the Reverend Robert Lechmere Guppy, fish-discoverer extraordinary.
Each life in The Reverend Guppy's Aquarium is quirky and often bizarre. Few of them would merit a footnote, let alone an entry, in the history books. But they all reveal that the prospect of immortality is only a fluke away. In an age of instant 15-minute celebrity, that's a reassuring thought.
“... brilliantly funny and engaging”
Scotland on Sunday
“... one long glorious swerve ... the book requires no such justification and no defence. Like all good things - like pies - it just is.”
“Whilst there are some 'ah-ha' moments, as pieces of each puzzle fall into place, it is the storytelling and the author's obvious affection for his subject that give a heart to this book. It's a quirky collection, concerned as much with people, history and fate as with their eponymous associations”