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Kevin Bacon and Sir Francis Bacon // Getty. Faith Bacon // Wikimedia Commons. Background // iStock

How Bacons (as in People Named Bacon) Have Helped Shape Western Culture

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Kevin Bacon and Sir Francis Bacon // Getty. Faith Bacon // Wikimedia Commons. Background // iStock

When playing a word association game with bacon, after eggs and a few sensory adjectives like crispy, the name Kevin would likely come up pretty quickly. But Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon notwithstanding, the surname Bacon has been around since well before Footloose.

People called Bacon have links to everything from French Impressionism (via Lucy Bacon, the only known Californian to have studied under any of the great Impressionists in Paris); to burlesque (American Faith Bacon is credited with inventing the genre-changing fan dance); to linguistic philosophy (through 13th-century Franciscan friar and scholar Roger Bacon, whose idea that all languages display universal grammar preceded Noam Chomsky by centuries). Throughout history, Bacons have been architects, artists, actors, athletes, musicians, politicians, preachers, and soldiers.

Artist Lucy Bacon's Garden Landscape, 1894–1896. Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Nowadays, the most well-known Bacon (after Kevin, obviously), is probably Sir Francis Bacon—the philosopher, scientist, and statesman (not to be confused with Francis Bacon the artist, or the cricketer, or Sir Francis's relative Francis Thomas Bacon, the 20th-century engineer and inventor of the hydrogen-oxygen fuel cell, a development which powered the space shuttle). The original Francis Bacon was a 17th-century Englishman who is known for modernizing empirical methods. Before him, science was largely based on ideas people made up, saw as religious visions, or deduced by logic. Bacon came up with the idea that scientific knowledge should be based only on what we can see and measure. He died on April 9, 1626, supposedly of bronchitis, while investigating the effects of ice in preserving meat (though it was chicken, not bacon, that he was testing).

But despite what seems like an obvious etymology, the surname Bacon doesn't necessarily have any connection to cured meat at all. One possible root is the Germanic Bac(c)o or Bahho, possibly from a root meaning "to fight," which appeared in Old French as Bacus and then came to England with the Normans in 1066 and became Bacun or Bacon. Another possibility, also from the Normans, was the French name Bascon or Bascoun. Almost a century after the Norman conquest of Britain, the first recorded spelling of the family name, that of William Bacun, appeared around 1150 in the county of Staffordshire. However, early etymologists studying the English family name suggest it may have come from the Saxon baccen or buccen, which meant "beech tree," or from the Saxon bacan, for "bake." The beech tree explanation is that the best pigs were said to eat beech(en) mast—the nut of the beech tree. In any case, people were often named for their occupation, so at least some of the original bearers of the name were likely to have been pork butchers, although the food meaning of bacon did not appear until about 1350.

In America, historically, Bacons have been most common in Vermont and other areas where Puritans from England settled in the 17th century, such as Massachusetts and the rest of New England. The Puritans tended to be wealthy enough to pay for their own passage, meaning they were more likely to be craftsmen and tradesmen than farmers, wealth being a powerful aid to the survival of a name. Kevin Bacon is descended from a branch of Quaker Bacons who left England because of religious persecution (which makes his star-making role as a teen with an insatiable urge to dance all the more interesting, considering his ancestors were also opposed to dancing on religious grounds).

 

Urban planner Edmund Bacon has been called "The Father of Modern Philadelphia." He is also the father of actor Kevin Bacon.

Kevin's father, urban planner Edmund Bacon, was one of the key figures in shaping how America looks today. He redeveloped Philadelphia in the decades following WWII and, as with other architects of the era, was treated as a celebrity, even appearing on the cover of TIME. Another celebrated Bacon architect is Henry Bacon, best known for designing the Lincoln Memorial. His travels in Europe brought a Greek and Roman influence to many of his most famous designs, with buildings and monuments all across America.

Quite a number of Bacons have worked in the political realm (though it doesn’t seem that any created the concept of pork-barrel politics). An American ambassador to France, Robert Bacon, narrowly missed returning to America on the Titanic when the new French ambassador was delayed on his way to take up the post. Bacon County, Georgia is named for four-time Georgian senator and former Confederate soldier Augustus Octavius Bacon, who was once a substantial landowner in the south.

Leonard Bacon's writing had an enormous influence on President Abraham Lincoln. Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

There were Bacons who worked to overthrow slavery and segregation too. Pastor and Yale professor Leonard Bacon, who was well-traveled and widely published, was strongly associated with the anti-slavery movement. His writing was highly influential to President Abraham Lincoln, particularly this quote from his work Slavery Discussed in Occasional Essays (1846), which Lincoln referenced often: "If that form of government, that system of social order is not wrong—if those laws of the Southern States, by virtue of which slavery exists there, and is what it is, are not wrong—nothing is wrong."

These days, according to the 2010 census, Bacon is the 1181st most common name in America, meaning there are just under 30,000 Bacons in the States—not including the small handful of children given Bacon as a first name. Though not remotely common for either gender (it only ranks as the 15,220th name for girls), it did increase for boys to rank as the 7708th most popular name between 2013 and 2014 (meaning that there are roughly six baby Bacon boys per million births).

So whichever branch of Bacons any modern bearers of the name are descended from, they're likely within six degrees of separation from one who helped shaped Western history and culture—and from the game's namesake.

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Of Buckeyes and Butternuts: 29 States With Weird Nicknames for Their Residents
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Tracing a word’s origin and evolution can yield fascinating historical insights—and the weird nicknames used in some states to describe their residents are no exception. In the Mental Floss video above, host John Green explains the probable etymologies of 29 monikers that describe inhabitants of certain states across the country.

Some of these nicknames, like “Hoosiers” and “Arkies” (which denote residents of Indiana and Arkansas, respectively) may have slightly offensive connotations, while others—including "Buckeyes," "Jayhawks," "Butternuts," and "Tar Heels"—evoke the military histories of Ohio, Kansas, Tennessee, and North Carolina. And a few, like “Muskrats” and “Sourdoughs,” are even inspired by early foods eaten in Delaware and Alaska. ("Goober-grabber" sounds goofier, but it at least refers to peanuts, which are a common crop in Georgia, as well as North Carolina and Arkansas.)

Learn more fascinating facts about states' nicknames for their residents by watching the video above.

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What's the Longest Word in the World? Here are 12 of Them, By Category
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Rebecca O'Connell

Antidisestablishmentarianism, everyone’s favorite agglutinative, entered the pop culture lexicon on August 17, 1955, when Gloria Lockerman, a 12-year-old girl from Baltimore, correctly spelled it on The $64,000 Question as millions of people watched from their living rooms. At 28 letters, the word—which is defined as a 19th-century British political movement that opposes proposals for the disestablishment of the Church of England—is still regarded as the longest non-medical, non-coined, nontechnical word in the English language, yet it keeps some robust company. Here are some examples of the longest words by category.

1. METHIONYLTHREONYLTHREONYGLUTAMINYLARGINYL … ISOLEUCINE 

Note the ellipses. All told, the full chemical name for the human protein titin is 189,819 letters, and takes about three-and-a-half hours to pronounce. The problem with including chemical names is that there’s essentially no limit to how long they can be. For example, naming a single strand of DNA, with its millions and millions of repeating base pairs, could eventually tab out at well over 1 billion letters.

2. LOPADOTEMACHOSELACHOGALEOKRANIOLEIPSAN …P TERYGON

The longest word ever to appear in literature comes from Aristophanes’ play, Assemblywomen, published in 391 BC. The Greek word tallies 171 letters, but translates to 183 in English. This mouthful refers to a fictional fricassee comprised of rotted dogfish head, wrasse, wood pigeon, and the roasted head of a dabchick, among other culinary morsels. 

3. PNEUMONOULTRAMICROSCOPICSILICOVOLCANOCONIOSIS

At 45 letters, this is the longest word you’ll find in a major dictionary. An inflated version of silicosis, this is the full scientific name for a disease that causes inflammation in the lungs owing to the inhalation of very fine silica dust. Despite its inclusion in the dictionary, it’s generally considered superfluous, having been coined simply to claim the title of the longest English word.

4. PARASTRATIOSPHECOMYIA STRATIOSPHECOMYIOIDES 

The longest accepted binomial construction, at 42 letters, is a species of soldier fly native to Thailand. With a lifespan of five to eight days, it’s unlikely one has ever survived long enough to hear it pronounced correctly.

5. PSEUDOPSEUDOHYPOPARATHYROIDISM

This 30-letter thyroid disorder is the longest non-coined word to appear in a major dictionary.

6. FLOCCINAUCINIHILIPILIFICATION

By virtue of having one more letter than antidisestablishmentarianism, this is the longest non-technical English word. A mash-up of five Latin roots, it refers to the act of describing something as having little or no value. While it made the cut in the Oxford English Dictionary, Merriam-Webster volumes refuse to recognize it, chalking up its existence to little more than linguistic ephemera.

7. SUBDERMATOGLYPHIC

At 17 characters, this is the longest accepted isogram, a word in which every letter is used only once, and refers to the underlying dermal matrix that determines the pattern formed by the whorls, arches, and ridges of our fingerprints. 

8. SQUIRRELLED

Though the more commonly accepted American English version carries only one L, both Oxford and Merriam-Webster dictionaries recognize this alternate spelling and condone its one syllable pronunciation (think “world”), making it the longest non-coined monosyllabic English word at 11 letters.

9. ABSTENTIOUS

One who doesn’t indulge in excesses, especially food and drink; at 11 letters this is the longest word to use all five vowels in order exactly once.

10. ROTAVATOR 

A type of soil tiller, the longest non-coined palindromic word included in an English dictionary tallies nine letters. Detartrated, 11 letters, appears in some chemical glossaries, but is generally considered too arcane to qualify.

11. and 12. CWTCH, EUOUAE

The longest words to appear in a major dictionary comprised entirely of either vowels or consonants. A Cwtch, or crwth, is from the Welsh word for a hiding place. Euouae, a medieval musical term, is technically a mnemonic, but has been accepted as a word in itself. 

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