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21 Wonderful Words for Wind

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Air molecules are always moving around us. When we can feel this movement, we call it wind. If we want to get a little more specific about the strength of the wind, we can talk about gentle breezes and zephyrs, or forceful gusts and gales—but geographers and climatologists have an additional goody bag full of wonderful wind words that get even more specific about what’s going on with those air molecules and where they’re coming from. Here are 21 names for the wind.

1. Bise

A cold, dry wind from the north or northeast funneled over the Alps into southern France and Switzerland by pressure differences.

2. Mistral

A cold wind that blows over the northwest Mediterranean coast when pressure differences funnel it through the Rhone valley.

3. Bora

A cold, very strong, dry wind on the coast of the Adriatic Sea and northern Italy occurring when pressure is high over the Balkans and low over the Mediterranean.

4. Brickfielder 

A summer wind in southeastern Australia that brings hot air from the outback to the cooler regions. Named either for the red dust it used to spread over Sydney from local brickworks, or the fact that it turned the soil as hard as bricks.

5. Southerly Buster

A cold wind from the south that follows the Brickfielder.

6. Buran

A strong north-easterly wind in Siberia and Central Asia that is hot in the summer and freezing in the winter. It’s called the purga in the Arctic tundra and the burga in Alaska.

7. Sirocco

A hot, dry, dusty wind that moves air from the Sahara into northern Africa and Italy. Over the Mediterranean it picks up moisture and becomes humid. Caused by a band of low pressure moving east across the southern Mediterranean.

8. Khamseen

The Sirocco in Egypt. It’s the word for 50. The wind is said to blow for 50 days.

9. Gibli

The Sirocco in Libya.

10. Xlokk

The Sirocco in Malta. Pronounced “shlok.”

11. Föhn wind

A föhn wind draws air up one side of a mountain, where it cools and sheds its moisture as precipitation, and then warms as it compresses coming down the other side of the mountain.

12. Chinook

A Föhn wind that carries warmed air down the Rocky Mountains and quickly raises the temperature in the valley below. Cattle grazing depends on it because it melts the snow.

13. Moazagoatl

A Föhn wind that moves over the Sudeten Mountains into Germany and Poland. Apparently from a dialectal version of Matz, the surname of a shepherd who first identified its telltale cloud formation in the mountains.

14. Zonda

A Föhn wind that blows eastward over the Andes in Argentina.

15. Samoon

A hot, whirling wind in the Sahara and Arabian Desert that plays a role in reshaping dunes; it can move vast quantities of sand. From the Arabic for “poison.”

16. Etesians 

The annual strong summer winds in the Aegean Sea resulting from a low pressure trough in Asia that is part of Monsoon storm systems. Also called “meltemi” in Greek and Turkish.

17. Shamal

The summer low pressure areas in Asia also cause this northwesterly wind in Iraq that whips up sand and dust.

18. Trade winds

These winds blow from the northeast in the northern hemisphere and the southeast in the southern hemisphere toward low pressure regions along the equator. They are reliable enough to plan trade routes around.

19. Tehuantepecer 

Strong winds in Mexico due to high pressure over North America. They are intensified as they blow through mountain gaps such as the one at the Isthmus of Tehuantepec.

20. Williwaw 

A stormy, cold wind that blows down the mountains in Alaska.

21. Willy-willy 

A local whirling wind in Australia that raises small columns of dirt, or dust devils, from the ground.

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Designer Reimagines the Spanish Alphabet With Only 19 Letters
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According to designer José de la O, the Spanish alphabet is too crowded. Letters like B and V and S and Z are hard to tell apart when spoken out loud, which makes for a language that's "confusing, complicated, and unpractical," per his design agency's website. His solution is Nueva Qwerty. As Co.Design reports, the "speculative alphabet" combines redundant letters into single characters, leaving 19 letters total.

In place of the letters missing from the original 27-letter Spanish alphabet are five new symbols. The S slot, for example, is occupied by one letter that does the job of C, Z, and S. Q, K, and C have been merged into a single character, as have I and Y. The design of each glyph borrows elements from each of the letters it represents, making the new alphabet easy for Spanish-speakers to learn, its designer says.

Speculative Spanish alphabet.
José de la O

By streamlining the Spanish alphabet, de la O claims he's made it easier to read, write, and type. But the convenience factor may not be enough to win over some Spanish scholars: When the Royal Spanish Academy cut just two letters (CH and LL) from the Spanish alphabet in 2010, their decision was met with outrage.

José de la O has already envisioned how his alphabet might function in the real world, Photoshopping it onto storefronts and newspapers. He also showcased the letters in two new fonts. You can install New Times New Roman and Futurysma onto your computer after downloading it here.

[h/t Co.Design]

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Big Questions
Why Does Japan Have Blue Traffic Lights Instead of Green?
ANTTI T. NISSINEN, Flickr // CC BY 2.0
ANTTI T. NISSINEN, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

In Japan, a game of Red Light, Green Light might be more like Red Light, Blue Light. Because of a linguistic quirk of Japanese, some of the country’s street lights feature "go" signals that are distinctly more blue than green, as Atlas Obscura alerts us, making the country an outlier in international road design.

Different languages refer to colors very differently. For instance, some languages, like Russian and Japanese, have different words for light blue and dark blue, treating them as two distinct colors. And some languages lump colors English speakers see as distinct together under the same umbrella, using the same word for green and blue, for instance. Again, Japanese is one of those languages. While there are now separate terms for blue and green, in Old Japanese, the word ao was used for both colors—what English-speaking scholars label grue.

In modern Japanese, ao refers to blue, while the word midori means green, but you can see the overlap culturally, including at traffic intersections. Officially, the “go” color in traffic lights is called ao, even though traffic lights used to be a regular green, Reader’s Digest says. This posed a linguistic conundrum: How can bureaucrats call the lights ao in official literature if they're really midori?

Since it was written in 1968, dozens of countries around the world have signed the Vienna Convention on Road Signs and Signals, an international treaty aimed at standardizing traffic signals. Japan hasn’t signed (neither has the U.S.), but the country has nevertheless moved toward more internationalized signals.

They ended up splitting the difference between international law and linguists' outcry. Since 1973, the Japanese government has decreed that traffic lights should be green—but that they be the bluest shade of green. They can still qualify as ao, but they're also green enough to mean go to foreigners. But, as Atlas Obscura points out, when drivers take their licensing test, they have to go through a vision test that includes the ability to distinguish between red, yellow, and blue—not green.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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