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Hurricane – Podictionary Word of the Day

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The first time I looked at the etymology of the word hurricane was in August of 2005.

At that time I don’t think I had really begun to consult Urbandictionary.  I do now, because I think it’s a good vehicle to show how slang usages are evolving.

I just checked now and I see that definition two and three tie the word hurricane to drugs and alcohol.

To some degree this shows that slang is slang is slang because according to The Oxford English Dictionary about the time of Samuel Johnson, 250 years ago, the word hurricane referred to a rip roaring house party.

Of course both the new and the older uses of hurricane in this way are pulled from the “blowout” meaning associated with the main meaning of the word.

That’s what the first entry at Urbandictionary refers to “A temporary alliance formed between the ocean and the sky…”

hurricaneI posted a podictionary episode about the word hurricane on August 28th, 2005 and listened to news reports over the days and weeks following August 29th when Katrina hit New Orleans.

I look back now at the Google trends data for the use of the word hurricane and see regular blips of search activity every August-September hurricane season.

I guess it’s a reflection of human nature that the highest peak of hurricane searches was around the period of Hurricane Rita, the storm that came right after Katrina.

The word hurricane is a word that evolved from local languages in the Caribbean, was picked up by the Spanish before it made its way into English.

In other parts of the world such a storm is called a typhoon.

Neither the words typhoon, cyclone, or tornado have such a marked regular annual beat, or come anywhere close in frequency of use as hurricane on Google trends.

I suppose this reflects the dominant use of Google by Americans who care more about storms in their part of the world.

The word hurricane appeared in written English in 1555 and coincidentally the word tornado appeared only one year later.  For some decades these two words both applied to Caribbean storms, until hurricane came to dominate and tornado withdrew to a meaning of a more localized blowout by the early to mid 1600s.

The word cyclone was an invented word by a fellow named Henry Piddington in 1848.

Piddington took it upon himself to figure out what the heck was happening out there at sea when one of these big blowouts took place.  He became very respected and valuable in India and England because what he found out saved a bundle in shipping losses.

He named the storms cyclones and most etymologies give the Greek root of this as cyclos meaning “circle.” But he actually visualized the storms like a giant snake coiled up on itself and the appropriate Greek word for that was cycloma.


Five days a week Charles Hodgson produces Podictionary – the podcast for word lovers, Thursday episodes here at OUPblog. He’s also the author of several books including his latest History of Wine Words – An Intoxicating Dictionary of Etymology from the Vineyard, Glass, and Bottle.

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4 Responses to “Hurricane – Podictionary Word of the Day”
  1. [...] 2009 | podcasts    Standard Podcast [4:56m]: Play Now | Download Yesterday at the Oxford University Press blog I revisited the word hurricane and mentioned a few other words for circular storms; cyclone, [...]

  2. [...] for gossip Wednesday’s word origin was for cow Thursday’s etymology, posted at OUPblog was for hurricane and Friday’s word root was for the word [...]

  3. Rachael Resch says:

    Author, language lover and speaker of Tzutujil Maya from Guatemala, Martín Prechtel gives us this etymology and meaning of the word “hurricane” in the glossary of “Disobedience of the Daughter of the Sun” (North Atlantic Books):

    “‘Huraqaan’ — Tzutujil Mayan for hurricane or heavy rain. Literally ‘one foot.’ Europeans and American get their words for these tropical storms directly from the Mayan language.”

  4. Tatiana says:

    From my history class; I was told that the word Hurricane came from ‘huracán’ as it was called by the Puertorican natives the “Tainos”, hundreds of years ago.

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