The Surprisingly Fascinating Story Of How ‘Boycott’ Became Synonymous With Mass Avoidance

When people refer to the mass avoidance of buying goods or services from a specific country, company or organization they use the word ‘boycott’. But have you ever wondered what’s the origin of this term?

Well, here’s the interesting story of Captain Charles Boycott, the Irish landlord who became extremely unpopular – so much so that his name ended up being a noun, a verb and a very influential social and political term.

The term first appeared in 1880 in Ireland. At the time, the Irish Land League, an organization fighting for the rights of the farmers, was pushing landlords for a 25% rent reduction as the harvest wasn’t turning out pretty well for that year. A land manager named Charles Boycott met with the Irish Land League and proposed to reduce the rent by 10% but that apparently, wasn’t good enough for the farmers. So they used one of their favorite and effective tactics: they ostracized the landlord with whom they were disagreeing and pushed to community to go against them. The Land League convinced every labourer that was working on or around Boycotts’ land to stop working there. On the September 25, 1880 newspaper Freeman’s Journal we read: (the story continues after the article)

The multitude…rushed to Loughmask House, the residence of Captain Boycott, the agent on the estate, and the party against whom the popular ire was chiefly directed, and in a very short time every labourer and servant employed on or around the place was driven off and cautioned not to work there again.

As Charles Boycott was one of the early victims, it didn’t take long for the press to turn Boycott synonymous with mass avoidance and by the early 20th century it was not only used by Irish, but also by British newspapers. For instance, in a 1908 Westminster Gazette article, the journal reported that ‘the local Labour Party is inclined to boycott preference voting’.

From there, it went “viral”. In fact, as this effective political tactic was spreading throughout Europe, they name remained the same and that is why in French the word is boycotter, in Dutch boycotten, in Russian bojkotirovat and in German boykottieren.

If you like what you read, then you will definitely love this one: You Will Never Break A Pinky Swear Again After Knowing Its Origin


Photos: Creative Commons
Photoshop: I’m A Useless Info Junkie
Sources: What is the origin of ‘boycott’? | The Wise Book of Whys

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