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It's all words

The Sandboxers at the old Dining@Large blog came to refer to this site as “Wordville,” and so it seems appropriate to start off the week with a set of words.

While many of us on the East Coast were hunkering down last week as Hurricane Irene passed over, Fritinancy was exploring the origins of the verb and sometimes-noun hunker.

Over at HeadsUp, the discovery of a sexist sentence about the hurricane prompted a look at the venerable and sensible Associated Press Stylebook rule against anthropomorphizing storms.

Here at Wordville, the ability to claim some expertise about words and language is central to our amour-propre, which is your word of the week.



Posted by John McIntyre at 11:09 AM | | Comments (7)


Picked up an informative little meteorological tidbit this past Friday from our intrepid local Los Angeles KABC TV /Ch. 7 veteran chief weather guy, Dallas 'Oh-so-Hollywood' Raines. The choice nugget of info was that up till the year 1979, all hurricanes of any note were given solely women's names. (Just happened to be the year I left The Great White North to embark on a career in TV animation in the Big Orange. But I digress.)

Whether hurricanes were given female names up till then was because women have perhaps more volatile and tempestuous natures than their male counterparts is open to debate. Or perchance, the U.S.M.S. was merely running out of viable names. (That "volatile and tempestuous" bit was just a little jocular attempt at stirring the pot. HA!)

As a ten year old tyke living in Toronto, I can still conjure up vague memories of the massive fury and destruction left in the wake of Hurricane Hazel in October of 1954. After causing considerable death and mayhem in Haiti, and all up the eastern U.S. seaboard, it stalled for an eternity over my hometown of Toronto, still a category 1 level storm event. Scores of Torontonians lost their lives, and the physical destructive toll of Hazel ran into the hundreds of millions of dollars.

Ever since that apocalyptic-like natural disaster, apparently the name Hazel has been permanently removed from the roster of possible names for North Atlantic hurricanes.(A little Wiki factoid.)

Sadly, Vermont is currently experiencing the denouement of Irene, w/ widespread torrential flooding, and statewide power outages.

Clearly FEMA ("Brownie, you're doin' a fine job.")* has its work cut out for it.

* George W. Bush's offhand compliment (before the gathered press in New Orleans) directed at the then FEMA Director Brown's being right on top of the unfolding Katrina 'situation'. Of course Fed bureaucrat Brown's main imperative that day seemed to be where he could find the best gumbo joint in town.............. hopefully one that wasn't being swamped by the rising waters from the burst levees.


Storms used to be called after the classical gods - and I think it's time to return to that. Thor and Medusa strike more fear than Hazel and Bruce. Or they do in me - but perhaps I read too much as a child.

When I was a kid, I thought (who knows why) that the female names had about as much to do with the hur-/her homonym as the "volatile" nature and I remember being surprised when someone first suggested the personality connection.

But I'm with P-the-T: the first storm I really remember hit the gulf coast when I was about 11, and Thor would have fit the behavior of that one a lot better than Carla did.

Patricia the T.,

True, the name "Bruce" doesn't exactly invoke fear and trepidation as a storm appellation.

I agree, it may be about time that they resurrected the names of the classical Greek, Roman, and Nordic gods.

Odin, Prometheus, and Eros have a tad more oomph, pizzaz, and gravitas than say Curly,Larry and Moe. Or, Cecil, Gertrude, or Herbert. Just sayin'.

And since when is "reading(ing) too much like a child", as you put it, a negative? IMHO, keeping that childhood wonderment, sense of whimsy, and fear of the unknown is one remnant of our formative years we should never lose.


On the other hand, can you imagine our largely ignorant television press - made up of Curlies, Larries and Moes - struggling to pronounce, not to mention explain Thor, Prometheus et al -to an audience?

djw, when I was a kid, we were told in grade schoole science that Huricanes were named after "hers". Of course, when we moved along to the English portion of the entertainment, that same teacher ripped nastily into those who used "hopefully" and ended sentences with prepositions, so go figure.

Patricia the T.,

Considering that a number of our L.A.-based TV weather-casters had (or still have) side-careers in standup comedy, then likely there are more than just 'three stooges' working the TV airwaves out there across this fair land.

Even comedian/ late-night talk show host David Letterman, fresh from graduating from Ball State University, got his first working gig as a local TV weather guy in his home town of Indianapolis.

We Los Angelenos have had the rather nerdy, slightly pedantic, greying, bespectacled Fritz Coleman covering the weather beat for KNBC/ Ch. 4 for decades now. Fritz still happens to moonlight, on occasion, as a pro standup comedian, and plied this trade long before he got his permanent, long-running L.A. weatherman gig.

"Did you hear the one about the meteorologist who walks into an isobar?" (Groan).
Coleman, like several high-profile weather-persons, has no degree in meteorology, but he's a master at delivering a 15 minute standup comedy routine. (Don't give up your day job, Fritz.)

The aforementioned (in an earlier post) weather guy, Dallas Raines at KABC TV/ Ch.7, here in town, looks like he could easily play a leading Lothario-type on some retro soap opera, w/ his poofy, blondish hair, perpetual tan, shiny silk custom-tailored suits, and spiffy neck ties. Raines, using the blue-screen technology to full advantage, manages to put his entire body into his weather forecasts, describing in broad, sweeping, exaggerated physical gestures the path of say a just-developing off shore flow, or an incoming onshore eddy situation on his gigantic virtual weather map.

Sometimes he'll do a slow-mo 'phantom' golf swing, a la the late Johnny Carson, as he wraps up his weather segment, and hands things back to his in-studio news anchors. (When he's not doing the weather, he's fine-tuning his golf game......... hence the perpetual tan.)

Of course we have our share of weather gals here in our hyper-competitive local L.A. TV market. All generally very telegentic, perky, and fashion model attractive, KABC/ KCAL TV's engaging Jackie Johnson is the current 'IT' girl on the Southland weather reportage scene. Youthful, blonde, athletically put together, w/ just the right curves, combined w/ girl-next-door sweetness and charm, she attracts a sizable nightly (male?) audience, and does a credible job reporting the weather, to bust........... oops........ to boot. (Patricia, I apologies for that clearly sexist faux slip-up.)

Although on-air humor and reporting disastrous natural weather events would appear to be mutually exclusive, at least here in La La Land, weather casters seem to have more of an affinity w/ standup comedians than bona fide meteorologists. After all, Hollywood casts a long shadow out here. Seemingly, even within the realm of local TV weather reportage, Hollywood's glitz-and-glam color that world. Just sayin'.

Curly, Larry and Moe......... over to Manny, Moe and Jack*. (Hmm........ that "Moe" character sure gets around, don't he?)

*These, of course, are the iconic Pep Boys, the venerable West Coast auto parts/ auto maintenance giant.


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About John McIntyre
John McIntyre, mild-mannered editor for a great metropolitan newspaper, has fussed over writers’ work, to sporadic expressions of gratitude, for thirty years. He is The Sun’s night content production manager and former head of its copy desk. He also teaches editing at Loyola University Maryland. A former president of the American Copy Editors Society, a native of Kentucky, a graduate of Michigan State and Syracuse, and a moderate prescriptivist, he writes about language, journalism, and arbitrarily chosen topics. If you are inspired by a spirit of contradiction, comment on the posts or write to him at
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