The Fascinating Origins of the Word ‘Boycott’

In an etymological episode of the informative series “Today I Found Out“, host Daven Hiskey explains how the word boycott came to mean what it does today. It turns out that the name originally belonged to a nineteenth century Englishman named Captain Charles C. Boycott who, while working as a land manager in Ireland, refused to give the tenant workers under his charge the rent reduction they requested. The workers refused to pay, Boycott evicted them and they left in droves. This action led to a number of other situations in which the Captain was refused service under threat of being “Boycotted“.

Soon, those who worked under Boycott began leaving his service, often with those workers being coerced and threatened by others until they, too, joined in the ostracizing of Boycott. This ultimately left Boycott with a large estate to manage, but no workers to farm the remainder of the crops. Other businesses also stopped being willing to do business with Boycott; he couldn’t even buy food locally and getting it from afar was difficult as carriage drivers, ship captains, and letter handlers on the whole wouldn’t work with him. …this led to Boycott being forced to leave his home, fleeing to Dublin. Even there, he was met with hostility and businesses that were willing to serve him were threatened with being “boycotted.”