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All about the weather

As was noted here a few weeks back, there are a variety of regional words to choose from when describing the weather in the UK. Many of these words are, unsurprisingly, related to different kinds of rain. Here in the US we also have a healthy crop of regionalisms with which to describe our inclement weather, such as sprinkle. However, we are also prone to importing (both our words and our cars), and recently we’ve seen a splendid example of the introduction of one of the kinds of words we like to import most: those for dramatic weather.

The word in question is derecho, which gained in popularity after the eastern US states experienced a particularly devastating storm at the end of June. Although derecho has been used in English for over a hundred years, only relatively recently has it risen to any kind of prominence. It’s an unusual word, which matches the unusual weather rather aptly.

USA via Spain and Denmark

Derecho has an interesting history. Originally a Spanish word, meaning ‘straight’ or ‘direct’, it was applied in English to a weather phenomenon by a Danish-born professor in Iowa called Gustavus Hinrichs. Its first recorded appearance seems to have been in a paper from 1888, titled Tornadoes and Derechos, published in the American Meteorological Journal. Hinrichs apparently chose the Spanish word with its direct meaning to serve in contrast with the twisting character of the tornado, which also comes to English from Spanish, and likely stems from the word for ‘screw’.

Even more heavy weather

Tornado and derechos are not the only such words we have appropriated for our heavy weather – hurricane likewise comes from Spanish, although the ultimate root of this is from a Taino word meaning ‘god of the storm’. Our typhoons come from Arabic (probably), and our cyclones and zephyrs are from Greek. Storm is from Old English, but it seems to be too generic a word to use to describe weather of truly epic proportions. Of course, if you’d rather describe an inordinately heavy rainfall without borrowing from any other languages, you can always abandon these words of faraway climes and eras and rely instead on some American regionalisms, such as toad-floater or bell-washer.

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