New Free Rice Words XIII
Bill Long 8/20/08
Finishing on the Winds--and Then Going Elsewhere
I realized after giving all the terms for the hot desert wind in the previous essay (such as samiel, simoom, sirocco, khamsin, gibleh [spelled gibli in the OED], leveche) that I had ignored one other: the harmattan. Derived from haramata, the name in the Fanti or Tshi language of West Africa, the harmattan is a "dry parching land-wind, which blows during Dec - Feb, on the coast of Upper Guinea in Africa; it obscures the air with a rest dust-fog." But then, there is also a figurative use of harmattan. From Thomas Carlyle in 1828: "The Harmattan breath of doubt." So one could, instead of referring to people who don't believe traditional religion in our day as "secular humanists," confuse even them by saying that they are afflicted with the "harmattan breath of doubt."
Do we have yet one more term for the desert wind? I found this 1927 quotation: "The Sirocco..has naturally received many local names, in south-east Spain leveche, in Algeria sirocco, in Tunis chili, in Tripoli gibli etc." It reminded me of the funny debate between French and American children on the name of God. While the French would admit that "God" was an acceptable name, his real name was Dieu.
All this emphasis on southern things has made me long for the cooling winds of the north. Indeed, anyone familiar with Greek mythology knows that the northern wind is called Boreas while the western wind is Zephyr. From Pope's 1718 translation of the Iliad we have: "Boreas beats the hoarse-resounding shores." Zephyr, as indicated, means the west wind but can also, because of the comparative mildness of this wind, suggest "a soft mild gentle wind or breeze." Shakespeare used the term this way in Cymbeline: "They are as gentile as Zephires blowing below the Violet, Not wagging his sweet head." Washington Irving could write: "The flowers, the zephyrs, and the warblers of spring, returning after their tedious absence."
Mention of the Greek word for west wind, Zephyr, made me think of the Latin equivalent: Favonius. But even more than Zephyr, Favonius bequeathed to us an adjective, favonian, which means "favorable, gentle, propitious." "Soft Spring, with breath Favonian," is more the experience in poetic writing than in most places around the world, I think. Keats knew the word:
"These pretty blossoms snow upon my lady's pall!
Go, pretty page! and in her ear
Whisper that her hour is near!
Softly tell her not to fear
Such calm favonian burial!"
You can learn to write like this; it just takes some time and energy devoted to it..
If you want a more complete catalogue of names of Greek/Latin winds, check this out. For the remainder of this essay, however, I will go north. Let's turn to septentrion.
If you look at old maps, you see that the northern regions are designated "Septentrion" or "septentrional." This word became associated with the north because it is the name of the Great Bear, Ursa Major, the constellation in the northern sky. The septem means "seven" and there are seven stars in it. More confusing is the trio, which literally means "plow ox." What is the similarity of a bear with a plow ox? No etymological dictionary I consulted can quite clear this up for me....The word Septentrion was first used in English in 1532: "This Nero governed by ceptre al the peoples that be under the colde sterris that highten the Septentrions."
In Shipley's Origin of English Words, there is an entry for Septentrion(es) on p. 360f. He tells the story of the myth of Ursa Major. Then, he says that there are other names used for Septentrion.
"It may be called the Plow, interpreting Septem-triones: seven plow oxen. It may also be called the Wagon.... the early word for wagon was wain, and the constellation was also called churl's (peasant's) wain. This was later folkchanged to Charles's Wain (by assocation with King Charlemagne) because of its nearness to Arcturus, which was similarly folk-understood as Arturus, for King Arthur, who is linked in legend with Charlemagne."
Interestingly, the Century lists Charles' Wain as an alternate name for Ursa Major, without telling us this delightful bolded little story.
So, of course, I had to spend a few minutes rooting around in Shipley's book, and I only stopped on the word scrivener. Though the word goes back to the mid-14th century, Chaucer had apparently written a poem on the scrivener and called his scrivener "Adam Scrivener," a "votary of the desk." As you probably know, a scrivener is a scribe, copyist, amanuensis. Several centuries later, the English writer Charles Lamb (1775-1834), who wrote some books with his sister Mary (I don't know if she had a lamb or was one; she is on the lam on that one), talked about the word scrivener in an interesting fashion. Interestingly, his father was one, and that may have affected the way he saw them. He talked about a
"notched and cropt scrivener--one that sucks his substance as certain sick people are said to do, through a quill."
The quill is not only the hollow shaft of a feather made into a pen but is also a "small pipe or tube,...esp. one used as a channel through which a fluid..may be conveyed." Thus, a straw.
But this then takes us into quills and quilling, and the word pirn, which is a "quill bobbin" (freerice.com word), and various other words. And, I didn't have time even to get to my favorite of all favories, which I found when researching nuphar: nunquam satis. But I, and you, will have to wait on that one...