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Definition of Boycott

The word "boycott" entered the English language because of a dispute between a man named Boycott and the Irish Land League in 1880.

Captain Charles Boycott was a British Army veteran who worked as a landlord"s agent, a man whose job was to collect rents from tenant farmers on an estate in northwest Ireland. At the time, landlords, many of whom were British, were exploiting Irish tenant farmers. And as part of a protest, the farmers on the estate where Boycott worked demanded a reduction in their rents.

Boycott refused their demands, and evicted some tenants. The Irish Land League advocated that people in the area not attack Boycott, but rather use a new tactic: refuse to do business with him at all.

This new form of protest was effective, as Boycott wasn"t able to get workers to harvest crops. And by the end of 1880 newspapers in Britain began using the word.

A front-page article in the New York Times on December 6, 1880, referred to the affair of "Capt. Boycott" and used the term "boycottism" to describe tactics of the Irish Land League.

Research in American newspapers indicates that the word crossed the ocean during the 1880s. In the late 1880s "boycotts" in America were being referred to in the pages of the New York Times. The word was generally used to denote labor actions against businesses.

For example, the Pullman Strike of 1894 became a national crisis when a boycott of railroads brought the nation"s rail system to a halt.

Captain Boycott died in 1897, and an article in the New York Times on June 22, 1897, noted how his name had become a common word:

"Capt. Boycott became famous through the application of his name to the relentless social and business ostracism first practiced by the Irish peasantry against the detested representatives of landlordism in Ireland. Although a descendant of an old Essex County family in England, Capt. Boycott was an Irishman by birth. He made his appearance in County Mayo in 1863 and according to James Redpath, he had not lived there five years before he won the reputation

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