A recent Wall Street Journal blog post about irritable American Idol judge Simon Cowell states that he is “no great pop music Svengali.” The word “Svengali” comes from a character in a book that almost no one reads anymore, George du Maurier’s 1894 novel, Trilby. It’s a good example of a character that becomes synonymous with his or her traits–in Svengali’s case someone who manipulates another person, usually with ill-intent. Any person who demonstrates a high degree of influence over others is now commonly described as a Svengali, including Karl Rove, NFL coach Bill Belichick, and Tiger Woods’ father, Earl.
Like Svengali, many character names from literature have entered the language as words to describe a person’s behavior or traits. How many of the following can you indentify?
- If you can always find something to be happy about, no matter how grim the circumstances, you are like the title character in Eleanor H. Porter’s children’s classic.
- A joyless miser is often described as which character from Dickens?
- From a James Thurber short story comes this name for a person with a rich, vivid fantasy life.
- This real-life British dandy has been widely fictionalized in plays and movies. His name is now synonymous with being well-dressed.
- The word “quixotic” comes from Cervantes’ Don Quixote. So does this name referring to a handsome seducer.
- The title character of Sinclair Lewis’s 1922 novel entered the language as a synonym for a narrow-minded conformist.
- If you make money easily, you might be said to have a “touch” similar to this mythical king.
- A thing of enormous size or power might be described as “gargantuan,” “goliath,” “titanic,” or “colossal.” Which of these four words does not come from a character in literature?
- This term for vanity, egotism or selfishness comes from the character in Greek mythology who fell in love with his own reflection.
- Which character from Voltaire’s Candide has become synonymous with foolish optimism?
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