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Interesting Etymologies: Wintry Weather

Ah, August. In a previous edition of Lot’s it was pointed out that August is named after the Roman emperor Augustus Caesar. Further etymological investigations reveal that this Latin name replaced the Old English Weodmonað or ‘weed month’, which came before ‘shroom month’ and ‘crack month’ (OK, I made these last two up). Whatever the name, the most salient feature of August to everyone at Monash is that it’s frickin’ cold. There are of course tabloid newspapers you can burn to keep warm (Andrew Bolt columns are particularly inflammatory), and once you’re nice and snug (and smug), do take a minute to enjoy these weather-related linguistic gems:

The English idiom to rain cats and dogs is attested from 1738, a variant of the earlier expression to rain cats and polecats which emerged in the 1650s. To rain on someone’s parade is relatively recent, appearing in 1941. The word wind, like rain, derives from Old English, and once rhymed with words like kind and mind before a sound change occurred in the 18th century to give us the modern pronunciation. The idiom to get wind of something first appeared in English a little later, and by 1883 we also get the sailing metaphor to take the wind out of one’s sails.

It is not just the English language that has a penchant for meteorological metaphors. Finnish has the idiom huutaa tuuleen (literally ‘to shout to the wind’), which means to do something that has no use. The Swedes sometimes say that no one is perfect by saying aven solen har fläckar (‘even the sun has got spots’), while Czech has snést někomu modré z nebe (‘to bring down the blue from the sky for someone’) meaning ‘to do anything to please someone’. And if you subtly insult a Dzongkha speaker of Bhutan, they might reply chap phar kah chap jil pa chu kha ray (‘the rain falls yonder, but the drops strike here’), i.e., indirect remarks hit the target.

So stay warm and we’ll be back next edition rain, hail or shine with another segment of ‘Interesting Etymologies’.

Tags : Wordplay
Jonathon Lum

The author Jonathon Lum

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