Silhouette – The Man Erased from History

From A Better Question.

Étienne de Silhouette is a man so thoroughly erased from history that only his name remains. His enemies twisted his name into a joke to mock him, and used it so often it became a synonym for "ridiculous".

It also became a word used in 7 languages. It’s a name you know – you just didn’t know it was a name.

This episode is the story of a man Voltaire praised for his intelligence, Rousseau respected for his integrity, and whom Casanova called the "first character of France". This is a person you should have learned about in school.

He saw a future of violence and economic ruin for his country, and to avoid it he completely changed the structure of French society. Something those in power did not appreciate.

So they destroyed him, and changed it back. They returned France to a path leading to Silhouette’s predicted disaster, and their descendants died in the revolution he warned them was coming.

What does all that have to do with drawing little shadow outlines of your face? That’s in here too.

This is the first of a series on eponyms – words you know which were once the name of a person you probably don’t. Like Boycott, Hooker, Sideburn, Sandwich, or Pants.


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00:00 Intro
00:43 How Names Become Things
03:18 Shadow of a Life
10:05 Coup de Grace – the fall of Silhouette
16:13 Stifled Potential – the exile of Silhouette
20:00 The Wrong Answers
22:26 Silhouette’s Legacy