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Hosni Mubarak

I Mubarak, you Mubaraked, they were Mubaraking?

There have been a good number of comments tweeted and posted online over the past few weeks about the possibility of turning Mubarak, the name of the recently resigned Egyptian leader, into a verb. Some of the suggestions as to what it might mean are ‘to stick to something like glue’, ‘to refuse to leave’, and ‘to fail to take a hint’.

The proposed meanings vary slightly; although they all have in common a not-terribly positive connotation. It is worth looking at whether the former Egyptian leader’s name does indeed have a chance at being enshrined in eponymous glory.

English is full of words that have originated from the name of some person who has, whether justly or no, some association with what it describes, from chauvinism to silhouette, and from Caesar salad (not the Caesar you’d think) to sandwich.

While there are a large number of foods, and an extraordinary number of diseases that have taken their name from individuals, and there are a fair number of cities, towns, and countries that have taken a name from a past leader, there seem to be very few words that have originated in response to the actions of a deposed politician, so it remains to be seen whether Mubarak will find himself listed as a verb in any Oxford dictionaries of the future.

Decisions about which words are added to Oxford dictionaries are based on evidence, and one of the tools that provides us with that evidence is the Oxford English Corpus, a searchable database of over two billion words. The Oxford English Corpus is composed of current and recent English usage, so if enough people around the world begin to use Mubarak as a verb in some sense or other, it will be monitored and put forward for possible inclusion.

However slim the chances, neither Mubarak nor his detractors should give up hope entirely, for sometimes it takes a long time before an eponymous term is born. The word Bluetooth is a fine example – although it has only been in use since the 1990s, it is said to be from the name of a 10th century Danish king, Harald Bluetooth, who was given credit with uniting Denmark and Norway.

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