- Some animals have given their names to synonyms that are just as descriptive as words derived from an eponyrn. One that comes to mind quickly, and one that is used frequently, is Jumbo. It is, in the words of P. T. Barnum, who introduced the elephant bearing this name, "the universal synonym for stupendous things."Barnum was a showman who didn't hesitate to exaggerate if it helped his business. Jumbo had been captured by a hunting party in Africa in 1869. The natives were amazed at its tremendous size and therefore dubbed the animal jumbo, which in Swahili means "chief." The beast weighed six and a half tons and stood ten feet, nine inches at the shoulders. Jumbo lived at the London Zoo for seventeen years. His daily rations consisted of 200 pounds of hay, five pails of water, and a quart of whiskey.In 1882 Jumbo had a change of residence. The London Zoo was experiencing financial problems, and to ease the burden, the zoo sold Jumbo to Phineas Taylor Barnum (1810-1891). The English public was incensed, and even Queen Victoria added her voice in an effort to retain this "national treasure." But Barnum won out and brought Jumbo to the United States. The transport took fifteen days, and Jumbo survived aboard the ship by drinking enormous quantities of beer. On Jumbo's arrival in America, Barnum proceeded in his modest style to inform Americans how fortunate they were to have Jumbo on their land. His advertisement read: Jumbo the Only Mastondon on Earth . . . The Gentle and Historic Lord of Beasts . . . The Towering Monarch of his Mighty Race . . . The Prodigious Pet of both England and America . . . Steadily Growing in Tremendous Height and Weight . . . Jumbo, the Universal Synonym for Stupendous things. . . .Jumbo was a star attraction, and his name did become a household word for anything of large size, such as a "jumbo package," or the oversized jets, such as the Boeing 747 and the DC 10. In 1885 Jumbo was accidentally struck down and killed by a railway engine in an Ontario railroad yard. It is said that Barnum wept, but whether because he had lost a moneymaking resource or because of sentiment, we'll never know. But we do know that many Americans wept for the loss of an animal they loved.
Dictionary of eponyms. Morton S. Freeman. 2013.