Glossary Item

Swift, Jonathan

Jonathan Swift (1667-1745) was an Irish-born author who gained notoriety and political influence as a sharp-witted satirist. His most famous work, Gulliver's Travels , followed the journeys of a character named Lemuel Gulliver through the imaginary lands of the Lilliputians (pygmies), the Brobdingnags (giants), and the Houyhnhnms (an ultra-rational society of horses) who ruled over the cretin Yahoos (an uncivilized, humanlike race). Other satires included A Modest Proposal (which ironically suggested that the British eat their own children) and The Battle of the Books (which poked fun at literary critics). Many Swiftian words have become integrated into the English language. When something is "of Lilliputian proportions" it is very, very small; referring to someone as a "Yahoo" implies that they lack manners and behave badly. Yahoo, incidentally, is also the name of the most famous World Wide Web directory, housed and maintained at Stanford University!


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