Reclaiming Words: Boycott

Boycott (v.) : to engage in a concerted refusal to have dealings with (a person, a store, an organisation, etc.) usually to express disapproval or to force acceptance of certain conditions.

Boycott (v.) : to engage in a concerted refusal to have dealings with (a person, a store, an organisation, etc.) usually to express disapproval or to force acceptance of certain conditions.

Origin of the word

While the word “girlcott” was used in the US in the 1960s by women’s rights activists, the word “boycott” has nothing to do with gender. In the 1870s, Irish farmers faced an agricultural crisis that threatened to result in a repeat of the terrible famine and mass evictions of the 1840s. Anticipating financial ruin, they formed a Land League to campaign against the rent increases and evictions landlords were imposing as a result of the crisis. Retired British army captain Charles Boycott was acting as an agent for an absentee landlord at the time, and when he tried to evict tenant farmers for refusing to pay their rent, he was ostracised by the League and community. Despite the short-term economic hardship to those undertaking this action, Boycott soon found himself isolated – his workers stopped work in the fields and stables, as well as in his house. Local businessmen stopped trading with him, and the local postman refused to deliver mail. After the harvest, the "boycott" was successfully continued and soon the new word was everywhere. 

Although the term itself was not coined until 1880, the practice dates back to at least the 1790s, when supporters of the British abolitionists led and supported the free produce movement. Other well known boycotting campaigns include:

· The Indian boycott of British goods organised by Mahatma Gandhi;

· Civil rights movement boycotts to protest segregation (e.g., Montgomery & Tallahassee Bus Boycotts);

· The boycott of South African goods by the Anti-Apartheid Movement, launched in London in 1959;

· The worldwide Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign led by Palestinian civil society against the State of Israel;

· Greta Thunberg, boycotting school which led to the worldwide Fridays for Future movement, and recently, boycotting what she called ‘greenwashing’ COP 27 in Egypt;

· The global fossil fuel divestment movement, described by Desmond Tutu as an "apartheid-style boycott to save the planet", and considered to be the biggest boycott-style campaign in history.

[Sources: Merriam Webster, Oxford Languages, Wikipedia]

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