Naming the wind

 

Living in the West means living with the wind. Some of our winds even have names like chinook, dust devil, black roller and blue norther.

Many of us learned of another name this July, when a "haboob" struck Phoenix. It's a blinding dust storm, provoked by strong gusts from a thunderstorm.

 

The National Weather Service has used the term in-house for years. Normally the media translate it to "severe dust storm" or the like for public consumption, but this time around, haboob made it into the news.

This upset some folks. "I am insulted that local TV news crews are now calling this kind of storm a haboob," one Arizona resident wrote to a newspaper. "How do they think our soldiers feel coming back to Arizona and hearing some Middle Eastern term?"

Well, drawing on my memories of Army days, I was rather fond of one Middle Eastern term: alcohol, which comes from the Arabic al-kuhul. Arsenal, caliber and magazine are all terms a soldier might hear in the course of duty, and all are derived from Arabic words.

Truth be told, I doubt anyone except my fellow English majors pays much attention to etymology, or cares about whether the word came from Arabic or Algonquin. That's one of the glories of the English language -- we borrow words from all over the place.

Essays in the Range blog are not written by High Country News. The authors are solely responsible for the content.

Ed Quillen is a freelance writer in Salida, Colo.


 

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