Something Deep

I was awakened in the wee hours this morning by bone-jarring cracks of thunder and blinding flashes of lightning. I hoped, for a brief moment, the storms signaled cooler weather. But, then, I remembered what the weather prognosticators offered last night: today’s high will be in the low- to mid-nineties. Cloudy with afternoon thunderstorms. Summer come early, the presage of savage heat by July and August. Meteorologists be damned, I predict temperatures reaching no higher than the high seventies today, with the thermometer dipping to the low sixties tonight! My prediction is, of course, utterly absurd. Meteorologists tend to know better than I what the atmosphere will bring.

Speaking of meteorologists, have you ever wondered about the etymology of meteorology? Well of course you have! I suspect it’s kept you up at night, worrying that someone will ask you to give an extemporaneous speech on the subject to an audience of several thousand linguists. Not to worry! I’ve just consulted Father Google and his minion, Online Etymology Dictionary so you won’t have to. According to OED (isn’t it clever how the publishers of the web site chose a name whose acronym mimics the OED?) it says this:

meteorology (n.)
“science of the atmosphere, weather forecasting,” 1610s, from French météorologie and directly from Greek meteorologia “treatise on celestial phenomena, discussion of high things,” from meteoron, literally “thing high up” (see meteor), + -logia “treatment of” (see -logy).

Okay. I knew the definition beforehand, but I was less clear on the derivation of the word. I assumed there must be some connection with “meteor,” though, and that wasn’t quite as clear (though I would assume a meteor is a “thing high up”). And the helpful publishers of OED suggested I check out meteor, which I did. And here is what they had to say:

meteor (n.)
late 15c., “any atmospheric phenomenon,” from Middle French meteore (13c.) and directly from Medieval Latin meteorum (nominative meteora),  from Greek ta meteora “the celestial phenomena, things in heaven above,” plural of meteoron, literally “thing high up,” noun use of neuter of meteoros (adj.) “high up, raised from the ground, hanging,” from meta “by means of” (see meta-) + -aoros “lifted, hovering in air,” related to aeirein “to raise” (from PIE root *wer- (1) “to raise, lift, hold suspended”).

Specific sense of “fireball, shooting star” is attested from 1590s. Atmospheric phenomena were formerly classified as aerial meteors (wind), aqueous meteors (rain, snow, hail), luminous meteors (aurora, rainbows), and igneous meteors (lightning, shooting stars).

I am having some problems with the fact that it’s astronomers and astrophysicists and their ilk who study meteors. Why don’t meteorologists get in on the gig?

As I read the second paragraph about the etymology of meteor, it occurs to me that I awoke this morning to a spectacle of aerial meteors, aqueous meteors, and igneous meteors. I rather like those terms. Wouldn’t it be odd to listen to the television weather forecaster say, “Tomorrow morning, we can expect high levels of aerial meteors. between one two inches of aqueous meteors, and brilliant displays of igneous meteors as the occasional thunderstorm passes through.”?

To change the subject just slightly, I’d like to propose that we change the term we apply to people who predict the weather from meteorologists to atmospheric futurists. Who should I see about making that adjustment to the English language? I suppose I should start at the top, directly with the OED (AKA “the definitive record of the English language”). Now might be a good time, since the OED is celebrating its 90th anniversary since its first publication and they may be in a charitable, celebratory mood. “Sure, what the hell, we’ll make the requisite adjustments to our dictionaries!”

You know, while I’m at it, I might suggest some other adjustments. I’m in favor of exploring the possibility of eliminating homonyms and homophones (is there a difference?). Why should a word meaning ‘a temporary stop or rest” sound exactly like a word meaning ‘the feet of an animal’? I suspect you’ve often been confused by sentences like “Look at the dog’s pause, would you?” or “Dogs often paws at fire hydrants.”Of course you have.  I think it’s time we change it, one word a year until the problem is solved.  Wait, maybe we should start with ‘to’, ‘too’, and ‘two’. By addressing that linguistic train wreck, we’d be able to avoid the problem of writing, “There are three ways to spell to/too/two.” And, while we’re at it, let’s address unnecessary duplicate meanings for different words, like ‘too’ and ‘also.’ Is it really necessary  to have such duplicates? Oh, wait, I have to backtrack on the concept of removing duplicates. I am in love with my Thesaurus; ignore everything I’ve said. Something is getting deep here and I’ve got to wade out of it.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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