Thursday, August 24, 2006

August 24: Weather Words Day

Today is the anniversary of an editorial by Charles Dudley Warner published in the Hartford Courant in 1897. The subject of the editorial is long forgotten, but one quote from the article lives on as a famous quote: Everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it.

Although many credit Warner with the funny line, some argue that it really should be credited to Mark Twain, who was a friend and collaborator with Charles Dudley Warner. Ralph Keyes, the author of The Quote Verifier, comes down on Twain's side, saying that the wording of the editorial reveals that Warner got the quote from Twain: "A well known American writer said once that, while everybody talked about the weather, nobody seemed to do anything about it" (1).

Weather or not Twain said it (pun intended), there is no doubt that weather has rained down on the English lexicon. Many of our everyday idioms are weather related (see Word Daze March 23), and some of our common words have meteorological origins:

Astonish: Being struck by thunder would certainly be an astonishing experience. This word comes to English via the French estoner which in turn was derived from Latin ex = out + tonare = to thunder. Thus the literal translation of astonish is thunderstruck.

Window: This word comes from the Norse vindauge which comes from vindr = wind + auga = eye. Thus a window is an eye for the wind.

Lunatic: For centuries people have considered the effects of the moon on the weather and the varying moods of earthlings. Because the moon does affect ocean tides, it does have an indirect impact on the weather. There is less evidence, however, to prove the moon's relationship to the human psyche. Nevertheless the word lunatic is derived from Luna the moon goddess, who in myth would sometimes toy with the sanity of mortals.

Today's Challenge: Forcast Calls for Neologisms
The nouns below probably do not look familiar. They are all neologisms, new words that have appeared in print but that are not yet in the dictionary. See if you can match up the words with their definitions below. For more details on each word visit Word Spy, a site devoted to neologisms.


weather tourist

weather bomb


gigantic jet

tornado bait

space weather

season creep

1. Earlier spring weather and other gradual seasonal shifts, particularly those caused by global climate change.

2. A person whose vacation consists of tracking down and observing tornados, hurricanes, and other severe weather phenomena.

3. A massive and powerful storm that develops quickly and without warning.

4. One or more mobile homes or trailers, especially when located in or near a tornado zone.

5. A massive lightning flash that extends from the top of a thundercloud up to the ionosphere.

6. Electrical storms generated when the solar wind emitted by the sun interacts with the Earth's magnetic field. Also: space-weather.

7. A large chunk of ice that forms in the atmosphere and falls to the ground.

8. The study of past earthquakes, volcanoes, and other geological events that combines the analysis of both physical evidence and the myths and legends related to the events.

Quote of the Day: To be interested in the changing seasons is a happier state of mind than to be hopelessly in love with spring. --George Santayana

Answers: 1. season creep 2. weather tourist 3. weather bomb 4. tornado bait 5. gigantic jet 6. space weather 7. megacryometeor 8. geomythology

1 - Keyes, Ralph. The Quote Verifier: Who Said What, Where, and When. New York: St. Martin's Griffin, 2006.

2 - Funk, Wilfred. Word Origins and Their Romantic Stories. New York: Grosset & Dunlap, 1950.

3 -

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