- A boycott is a refusal to do business or have other contaets with a person, a corporation, or a country. The word boycott, with a small "b," surfaced in 1880 when Captain Charles Cunningham Boycott (1832-1897), an English land agent for the estates of the Earl of Erne at Connaught in County Mayo, Ireland, evicted poverty-stricken tenant farmers who could not pay their rent. The farmers had been struck by a ruinous failure of crops and had little money.Captain Boycott was made a test case by the great Irish nationalist leader, Charles Parnell. Parnell's strategy was to ostracize any landlord who refused to lower rents or any tenant who took over a farm of an evicted tenant "by isolating him ... as if he were a leper of old ... by leaving him strictly alone." Boycott then found himself the target of total ostracism. His servants left, his farmhands left, and he was deprived of all mail delivery. Storekeepers refused to sell to him; people jeered at him and hung him in effigy. Further, marauders tore down his fences and turned his cattle loose. Life became unbearable, so miserable, that Boycott finally gave up and fled to England. Thus Boycott was responsible for the first boycott.People came to call this action a boycott, which became a very powerful term, especially when used by unions against employers regarded as unfair. A refusal to do business with the employer was called a primary boycott. Influencing other people to join the boycott was termed a secondary boycott. However, this latter maneuver was declared illegal by Federal United States courts.Boycott's fortitude must have returned to him or else he became lonely for Ireland, for he later visited Ireland on one of his holidays. At a public gathering in Dublin, Boycott was recognized — and cheered! Although to boycott and to send to Coventry mean the same thing, the latter expression arose much earlier in time. At the beginning of the war between Charles I and Parliament, Royalist prisoners were sent to the Cromwell stronghold of Coventry for safekeeping. The citizens of Coventry, especially the women, shunned them; they were soundly ostracized.
Dictionary of eponyms. Morton S. Freeman. 2013.