Charles Boycott: The Man Who Became a Verb

The act of boycotting an organization or a person dates back to centuries, but the word “boycott” itself is relatively new. It entered English usage only in 1880 after a highly publicized campaign to ostracize a certain English land agent gained wide coverage in the British press. His name was Charles Cunningham Boycott.

Charles Cunningham Boycott was born a “Boycatt” in 1832, but his family changed the spelling of his surname, for reasons unknown, from Boycatt to Boycott when the lad was nine years old. Henceforth known as Charles Boycott, the young and spirited boy entered the Royal Military Academy in Woolwich, in 1848, in hopes of serving in the Corps of Royal Engineers. But after failing a periodic exam, Boycott was discharged from the academy. Seeing the boy’s eagerness to serve in the military, his family bought him a commission in the 39th Foot regiment. Alas, Boycott’s initial enthusiasm to be a soldier waned, and just three years later, he decided to quit and became a landlord.

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