- Technically, this essay does not belong in the book because the subject does not consist of a proper noun used as an ordinary word. The proper noun is Burnside; the ordinary word, sideburns. Clearly sideburns is not a derivative. Let's clarify the mixup.Ambrose Everett Burnside (1824-1881) went from being an apprentice tailor in Liberty, Indiana, to a Union general and ultimately commander of the Army of the Potomac. He was a dreamer of bizarre schemes to win the Civil War.No one would disagree that Burnside looked the part of a general, what with his striking figure, his bushy side whiskers, and smooth chin. His greatest pleasure was to lead a parade and maneuver his Rhode Island volunteers, for he was always warmly applauded. Astride a horse, and with whiskers flowing and the bands playing, he was the dashing general that people expected to see. This was the spectacle of Burnside at his best.Militarily, Burnside was a different kind of spectacle. At the battle of Fredericksburg, Burnside instigated a surprise strike by crossing the river. More than 100,000 Union soldiers were killed. This debacle was followed by others, including a plan to tunnel under the enemy lines. Kindhearted historians report simply that Burnside had his ups and downs. Abraham Lincoln said that he was the only man he knew who could snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Burnside was bumble-headed and undoubtedly the least distinguished general in the Union Army. He committed so many military errors that the war would have been lost had he not been replaced before resigning his commission.But Burnside lived on, not because of his surname but because he had cultivated side whiskers, a luxuriant growth of muttonchop whiskers called burnsides. Men, particularly young men, liked the look. Burmides became a popular fad. However, because of a semantic shift the name for side whiskers was sensibly turned around to sideburns, a logical generic term because such whiskers grow on the sides of the face. The continuation of hair down the side of a man's face is still called sideburns, making Burnside's name, anagrammatically speaking, one of the best eponymous words.Being bumble-headed doesn't prevent a person from rising to high office. Burnside, with his winning personality and imposing presence, was elected governor of Rhode Island three times and then served as a United States senator for two terms. The people of Rhode Is]and were more compassionate than Burnside's first wife-to-be. When the minister asked whether she would take this man as her husband, she took a quick look at him, shrieked a resounding "No," and ran out of the church.
Dictionary of eponyms. Morton S. Freeman. 2013.