Sunday, 5 December 2010

A Case of the Wind

Found the notes from another old piece this week which not only had I forgotten existed but failed to recall anything of the content. Hence reading it seemed a totally new experience for me. The piece was on the etymology of the various winds, commissioned to accompany an article looking at the upcoming Cowes Week and seemed somewhat topical. The winds of the world sort themselves into three groups: the classical, the regional, and those referring to speed and strength.

Of the classic winds, Aquilon is taken from the Roman god of the north wind, while Boreas is the Greek equivalent. Auster is the poetic south wind, it comes from Latin auster and is literally 'the southern wind'. Similarly Natus is from Notus the Greek god who was bringer of the autumnal storms, thus associated with the southern wind. Libeccio is the south or southwesterly wind which may bring a good swell and even quite violent squalls, the name comes from libeccio an Italian word derived from Latin and ultimately Greek meaning 'Libyan'. Zephyr is derived from Zephyrus, as we would expect the light breezes of spring and associated with the west wind. Favonius was the Roman equivalent. To complete the set Eurus is the Greek god of the east wind.

There are also the regional winds, mostly seasonal and having a profound influence on the climate of the region. The Mistral comes off the Mediterranean and heads northeasterly to hit the coasts and France and Spain, although it is felt anywhere from Corsica to the Balearic Islands. Mistral is from the Languedoc dialect and means 'masterly', adirect reference to this cold dry wind's dominance of the climate when it blows.
Monsoon is probably the best known of the regional winds. First used to describe the change in wind direction across the Indian subcontinent which brought very heavy rains from the south, it is now used to describe any seasonal reversal of the normal wind direction anywhere in the world. It was first recorded in English during the British rule in India, however the word is derived from Portuguese moncao, itself from Arabic mawsim, and meaning 'season'. However there may be influences from Dutch monsun and also mausam which is common to several languages in meaning simply 'weather'.
Sirocco is that which is born in the Sahara and can reach hurricane force as it hits North Africa and Europe. The modern Itlaian name is derived from the Greek sirokos and refers to this as 'easterly'. Interestingly in former Yugoslavian states, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic it is described as jugo, from an old Slavic word jug meaning 'southerly' and showing the same point of origin but from different aspects.

Lastly the everyday words used to describe the most violent of winds. Cyclone is an atmospheric disturbance which circulates clockwise in the southern hemisphere but anticlockwise north of the equator. The name is derived from the Greek kuklos meaning simply 'circle'. The most violent tropical cyclones, where winds exceeding force 12 on the Beaufort scale are known as hurricanes. With hurricanes being synonymous with the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea, it is no surprise to find the name has come from huracan, from the Carib people who also gave their name to the sea. Across in the Pacific Ocean and China Sea such storms are referred to as typhoons. This is derived from the Cantonese daai fung, seen in Mandarin as da feng, and meaning 'great wind'.
When the storm spins in excess of three hundred miles per hour, particularly in North America, they are referred to as tornadoes. The name comes from two Spanish words, tronada meaning 'thunderstorm' being influenced by tornado 'turned'. Over water it produces a waterspout, an English word which is self-explanatory, while the influence of the sun's heat produces small whirling disturbances known as dustdevils, the dust is often the only sign of such although why 'devils' is unclear.

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