The Etymology of Natural Phenomena

These meteorological phenomena draw from languages across the world while paying homage to the Proto-Indo-European tree from which so many languages were born.8735885671_caf95f41b4_z

Typhoon: Trailing behind it a multi-ethnic and multilingual history, this word finds resonance in the Greek typon, meaning “whirlwind” and the Persian, Arabic, and Hindi tufan, designating a major cyclone or storm.  “Typhoon” entered the English during the 16th century, when European explorers made their way to India and the South China Sea and first encountered these maelstroms of wind and rain.

Tornado:  A word with two strains of etymology, both equally appropriate, this word stems from the Spanish tronar, meaning “thunder” and tornar, meaning “to twist.”

Monsoon:  While our understanding of a monsoon involves heavy wind and rain, the literal definition means a “time of year” or “season.”  From the Arabic mawsim and later, the Portuguese monçao, the word signified a period of time when rains were at their heaviest, and usually followed by a period of drought.

Tsunami:  These far-reaching waves garnered their name from the Japanese tsu, meaning “harbor” and nami, meaning “waves.”

Snow: Ubiquitous in most Proto-Indo-European languages, it stems from the PIE root sniegwh and finds resonance in languages as diverse as German (Schnee), Russian (sneg), and Dutch (sneeuw).  Romance languages like Spanish (nieve) and French (neige) opted for the Latinized nivem to denote snow.

Rain: Like the word “snow”, rain comes to us via ramified routes that stem from a Proto-Indo-European root.  In this case, that root is reg, meaning “moist” or “wet.”  This root found its way into Latin as rigare (hence the word “irrigate”) and into modern Germanic languages via Saxon, Norse, and Frisian.

Photo Credit: Zooey