Sideburns have been cultivated for centuries – Alexander the Great is shown with them in a Pompeii mosaic – but their modern name is a tribute to the splendidly bewhiskered Ambrose Everett Burnside. Indiana-born Burnside was an inventor and politician who became a senior general in the Union Army during the American Civil War.
He enjoyed some successes but was thought by many to have been promoted beyond his abilities, and is best-known for the catastrophic defeat at Fredericksburg in 1862 and his involvement in the shambolic Battle of the Crater in 1864.
Burnside was an instantly recognisable figure, mostly for his distinctive style of facial hair. He grew luxuriant side whiskers joined to a moustache, but kept a clean shaven chin. Such whiskers were soon dubbed ‘burnsides’ after the general, and at some point the name was reversed to give us today’s word ‘sideburns’.