Machiavellian, draconian and quixotic

A bit of a puzzler today.

The adjective 'Machiavellian' (meaning "cunning, scheming and unscrupulous, especially in politics or business", OED) is derived from the name of the Italian statesman and writer Machiavelli (1469-1527) - the chap pictured on the left.

Similarly the adjective 'draconian' (meaning "(of laws) excessively harsh and severe", OED) is also derived from the name of an individual - in this instance the ancient Athenian legislator Draco.

So why is it that Machiavellian takes an upper-case 'M' but draconian doesn't take an upper-case 'D'?

I tried to think of some other examples to see which camp they fell in but didn't get much past 'quixotic' - which is derived from the name of a fictional character anyway. Obviously I am discounting adjectives such as Jacobean because they relate to the individual's life and times rather than their personal qualities. Anyone help?

10 comments:

Dan said...

There's stentorian and quisling. Machiavellian looks like the exception, although I'm not sure what the capitalization standard is for one-offs like hitleriffic/Hitleriffic.

Gloom Raider said...

"Socratic" and "Darwinian" seem to take capital letters. Unless there's some American vs. British English deviation I'm not aware of, anyway.

JD said...

Yes, Socratic and Darwinian take an initial cap in British English.

Hmm, perhaps the more widely known the individual, the more likely the corresponding adjective is to be capitalised. If the individual is not widely known, the adjective is less likely to be consciously associated with his name and therefore less likely to receive an initial cap.

Using Google as a rough guide, it seems that Quisling and Stentor are the least written about individuals, with Darwin and Socrates the most written about. This seems to support the theory! Draco is a funny one because most Google hits refer either to the constellation or to the character Draco Malfoy from Harry Potter...

Going by this -ahem- logic, Hitleriffic would also receive an initial cap.

Thank you!

JD said...

Forgot to mention that Machiavelli falls somewhere in the middle in terms of Google popularity...

Dan said...

Ah, fame, but of course! Here I was foolishly thinking it would come down to recency...

(Related: the Great Buffalo Wing Controversy. Here in the Midwest we're more likely to associate hot wings with the animal than the city, but just try decapping Buffalo wings in the City of Good Neighbors.)

Gareth said...

Are buffalo wings so named because they come from a place called Buffalo, then?

Wow, you learn something every day. I honestly thought they were so named because they came from really massive chickens. No, really.

Chris said...

Platonic tends to be lower-case. Poor old Plato. Maybe we should start a campaign to raise his profile, eh?

garik said...

For what it's worth, I write, machiavellian, platonic and draconian with lower-case initial letters. So, I find, does my Oxford English Reference Dictionary.

However, it and I write Socratic, Darwinian, Dickensian and Shavian.

JD said...

Garik - interesting, my Oxford English Dictionary Concise spells Machiavellian with a cap M. Perhaps it's in transition.

Chris - Plato seems to scupper my theory, as I guess he is better known than Machiavelli... perhaps, as Dan suggests, it comes down to recency as well as fame. Will give it some thought!

Anonymous said...

Heculean?