The word boycott entered the English language during the Irish "Land War" and is derived from the name of Captain Charles Boycott, the land agent of an absentee landlord, Lord Erne, who lived in Lough Mask House, near Ballinrobe in County Mayo, Ireland, who was subject to social ostracism organized by the Irish Land League in 1880. As harvests had been poor that year, Lord Erne offered his tenants a ten percent reduction in their rents. In September of that year, protesting tenants demanded a twenty five percent reduction, which Lord Erne refused. Boycott then attempted to evict eleven tenants from the land.
Charles Stewart Parnell, in a speech in Ennis prior to the events in Lough Mask, proposed that when dealing with tenants who take farms where another tenant was evicted, rather than resorting to violence, everyone in the locality should shun them. While Parnell's speech did not refer to land agents or landlords, the tactic was first applied to Boycott when the alarm was raised about the evictions. 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.
The concerted action taken against him meant that Boycott was unable to hire anyone toharvest the crops in his charge. Eventually 50 Orangemen from Cavan and Monaghanvolunteered to do the work. They were escorted to and from Claremorris by one thousandpolicemen and soldiers, despite the fact that the local Land League leaders had said that there would be no violence from them, and in fact no violence materialized. This protection ended up costing far more than the harvest was worth. After the harvest, the "boycott" was successfully continued. Within weeks Boycott's name was everywhere. It was used by The Times in November 1880 as a term for organized isolation.
According to an account in the book “The Fall of Feudalism in Ireland” by Michael Davitt, the term was promoted by Fr. John O'Malley of County Mayo to "signify ostracism applied to a landlord or agent like Boycott". The Times first reported on November 20, 1880: “The people of New Pallas have resolved to 'boycott' them and refused to supply them with food or drink.” The Daily News wrote on December 13, 1880: “Already the stoutest-hearted are yielding on every side to the dread of being 'Boycotted'.” By January of the following year, the word was being used figuratively: "Dame Nature arose.... She 'Boycotted' London from Kew to Mile End" (The Spectator, January 22, 1881).
Other instances of boycotts are their use by African Americans during the US civil rights movement (notably the Montgomery Bus Boycott); the United Farm Workers union grape and lettuce boycotts; the American boycott of British goods at the time of the American Revolution; the Indian boycott of British goods organized by Mohandas Gandhi;