‘Boycott’ means to withdraw from a commitment in protest, whether commercial or social. The word comes from Ireland and Captain Charles Cunningham Boycott, an unpopular Englishman working as a land agent in Ireland. In 1880, a campaign organized by the Irish Land League called for reform in the system of Landholding. Boycott refused to submit to the demands of the League, ordering anyone with rent arrears to be evicted – had had refused to give discounts to land owners/tenants despite being asked.
Charles Parnell, the president of the Land League, asked everyone in the local community to refuse to have anything to do with Boycott in support of their own cause. Labourers refused to work for Boycott, innkeepers refused to serve him.
Over time, the whole affair began to be a costly mistake for Boycott but an incredible success for its tenants because of the amount of passion it had evoked. Such was the success that the Land League called for all Irishmen to oppose similar landlords like Boycott.
Within weeks of this, ‘boycott’ had entered the lexicon, meaning ‘refusal to cooperate’, adopted by newspapers across Europe and the world. At the time of his death in 1897, Boycott’s name had entered the English language, Boycott himself having fled back to England.
[Courtesy of 'It's a Wonderful Word' by Albert Jack]