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The volcano that spewed ash into the Icelandic skies and disrupted world air travel has a name that’s pretty difficult to pronounce and pretty difficult to spell; it’s Eyjafjallajökull. This evidently means “island mountain glacier.” Nothing about volcanoes, fire or ash in that word.
The volcano that was first called a volcano, however, does have a name relating to its fiery fame. Mount Etna is on the island of Sicily which is the island that the boot of Italy is kicking. The name Etna is thought—according to Adrian Room’s book Placenames of the World—to have originated from a Phoenician word attuna meaning “furnace.” He dismisses the theory that Etna is from a Greek source meaning “I burn.”
Mount Etna holds a place in Roman mythology as the furnace of the god of fire and blacksmithing. That god’s name was Vulcan hence the word volcano which appeared as an English word in 1613 in the travel writings of Samuel Purchas. So from that day to this travel and volcanoes seem to be strangely linked.
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.