Origin of the word Boycott
Often we use the word ‘boycott’ to mean an organized effort to socially isolate a particular person or a family or a group of persons, which is very much evident even today, especially in the rural societies. It may also be organized by consumers, workers, or businesses to avoid trade that benefits another group, business, or an entire country whose policies they disagree with. But, how the word ‘boycott’ came into existence is a million dollar question.
Historically, the word ’boycott’ is related to the last name of a person, who was known as Charles Cunningham Boycott. He was born on March 12, 1832, in the village of Burgh St. Peter, Norfolk, England. He was educated in Blackheath, London.
After he retired from the army, he became an agent for John Crichton, 3rd Earl of Erne, who owned 40,386 acres of land in Ireland, out of which 2,184 was in County Mayo. The Earl offered Charles to take the charge of his landed property near Neale, and a lease on a farm of 629 acres, including a good house with a yard and stables, a ruined castle, two islands, a boathouse and sporting rights. In return, Boycott should collect the rents from the other 35 tenants and in overall look after the estate.
Everything was going smoothly till 1879, when economic downturn caused a crisis in Irish agriculture and the extreme scarcity of food was a constant threat. Soon the Irish peasants organized to make a demand for the reduction of rents. Under the leadership of Home Rule advocates Charles Stewart Parnell and Michael Davitt, they formed the Irish Land League in 1879 in Ireland and intimated Boycott in 1880 that he must reduce rents by 25 percent. Boycott refused to accept their demands, but he could not imagine that his decision would ruin everything he created in the past years.
At that stage, when Boycott decided to evict no less than 11 tenants, the locals could not take it anymore. Within no time, the Mayo branch of the Irish Land League urged Boycott’s employees to withdraw their labor and began a campaign of isolation against Boycott in the local community.
They didn’t just refuse to work the land owned by Lord Erne, but they didn’t even speak with him, no one would sit near him in church, even the local shops refused to serve him in any way. No one wanted to work for Boycott and in the end, much of the crop was ruined.
In view of the circumstances, Boycott had no other way but to leave the island in disgrace and his name became a synonym for the concept of isolating someone in order to bring about change. Even today, he is the brand name for a very effective type of social protest. His name lives on in infamy forever.