Trend Watch

'Hurricane' Lookups Increase as Irma Moves Through Caribbean

'A tropical cyclone with winds of 74 miles per hour or greater'


Hurricane was among our top lookups for a number of days in early September 2017, as a pair of such storms, Harvey and Irma, left a trail of devastation and flooding across a number of countries.

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The word came into English in the middle of the 16th century, from the Spanish 'huracán'

The extraordinarily large and intense Hurricane Irma is drawing ever closer to South Florida. A hurricane catastrophe has become nearly unavoidable; it’s only a matter of what areas are hardest hit and how severely.
—Jason Samenow, The Washington Post, 8 Sept. 2017

At the Alley Theater, in the anxious days immediately after hurricane Harvey slashed through Houston and surrounding areas, the scale of destruction was still obscured.
—Reggie Ugwu, The New York Times, 8 Sept. 2017

People often turn to a dictionary to look up a specific common word following a notable occasion in which that word is used; in many cases this appears to not be motivated by ignorance of meaning, but rather by a desire to learn additional information, such as etymology, chronology, or propriety of use.

For those who are interested in a technical meaning of hurricane, we define it as "a tropical cyclone with winds of 74 miles (119 kilometers) per hour or greater that occurs especially in the western Atlantic, that is usually accompanied by rain, thunder, and lightning, and that sometimes moves into temperate latitudes."

The word came into English in the middle of the 16th century, from the Spanish huracán, which itself came from the Taino hurakán (this is the language of the Taino people, "a member of an aboriginal Arawakan people of the Greater Antilles and the Bahamas").

While the overwhelming preponderance of use of hurricane has recently been of the literal variety, the word has a long history of figurative use ("something resembling a hurricane especially in its turmoil"), dating back to the mid-17th century.

Lo, Job was the greatest man in the East; his heir did not dwell in a cottage; that strong Fabrick could not stand against this Hurricane of Satan.
—Joseph Hall, The Balm of Gilead, 1650

Multitudes of the Nobility and Gentry of the Nation (intent upon the saving their own Free-hold) address'd a Neighbour-Prince, to come to their rescue from an Hurricane of Popery and Arbitrary Power, and to support the tottering Fabrick of their Government.
—A.B., Just Principles of Complying with the New Oath of Allegiance by a Divine of the Church of England, 1689



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