HURRICANE

1555 HURRICANE

Many of the new words born during the exploration of the New World were inspired by the strange new forms of life encountered there. Hurricanes, an equatorial phenomenon unknown to Europeans, served as outstanding example of the hitherto unknown dangers that lay in wait for those unsuspecting adventurers. This word comes to us by way of the Spanish adaptation, huracan, of a Native Caribbean word for those catastrophic storms defined by the American Heritage Dictionary as follows: “a severe tropical cyclone with winds exceeding seventy-five miles per hour, originating in the tropical regions of the Atlantic Ocean or Caribbean Sea, travelling north, northwest, or northeast from its point of origin, and usually involving heavy rains. See synonyms at wind.” When you turn to wind, you discover why the American Heritage Dictionary is one of the best on the market. Not only does it give you a list of synonyms, but explanatory notes on how each synonym differs from all the others in the list. Under wind, you find wind, breeze, zephyr, blast, gust, gale, whirlwind, tornado, twister, cyclone, hurricane, typhoon and waterspout. You discover that hurricane originates in the West Indies, whereas a typhoon (from the Chinese ta feng, “big wind,” first appearing in English in 1588) applies to windstorms in the western Pacific and China Sea. The term that covers them both is cyclone: “the general term for a system of rotating wind, often hundreds of miles in diameter, that travels widely, brings driving rain and often great destruction.” This term is much newer than the other two, not appearing in print until 1848. It is based on the Greek kuklos, or “circle,” because of the circular path of the wind.

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