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Friday, September 14, 2012


It's hurricane season, and, since these storms brew up in the Caribbean, the word comes, not surprisingly, from a Caribbean language. In the now extinct Taino, spoken in the Bahamas and Greater Antilles, hurakán meant “god of the storm”. When Europeans started exploring the Caribbean and having their first taste of violent tropical storms, they adapted this native word, the Spanish as huracán and the Portuguese as furacão. Until the spelling finally settled down as “hurricane” in English in the 1680s, there were about thirty different spellings, the most common being “furacane”. In the 1700s, a “hurricane” was also a kind of fashionable social gathering where your house was overrun with people.
For the etymology of hurricane's Pacific cousin, typhoon, please click here.

1 comment:

  1. Hello,

    Until I read this posting, I thought I knew something about Spanish ... Well, not anymore.

    I thought I knew Spanish had replaced (some) initial "f"s with "h"s. Such as in "hermosa"/"formosa"/frumoasa"(Romanian)/"beautiful".

    Now I learn that Spanish imported a word starting with "h", while Portuguese replaced that "h" with an "f".

    At this point, I have no idea how/why this happened.

    Thank you.


About Me

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Canada's Word Lady, Katherine Barber is an expert on the English language and a frequent guest on radio and television. She was Editor-in-Chief of the Canadian Oxford Dictionary. Her witty and informative talks on the stories behind our words are very popular. Contact her at wordlady.barber@gmail.com to book her for speaking engagements; she can tailor her talks to almost any subject. She is also available as an expert witness for lawsuits.