1 a : a sudden violent gust of cold land air common along mountainous coasts of high latitudes
b : a sudden violent wind
2 : a violent commotion
Did You Know?
In 1900, Captain Joshua Slocum described williwaws as "compressed gales of wind … that Boreas handed down over the hills in chunks." To unsuspecting sailors or pilots, such winds might seem to come out of nowhere—just like word williwaw did some 170 years ago. All anyone knows about the origin of the word is that it was first used by writers in the mid-1800s to name fierce winds in the Strait of Magellan at the southern tip of South America. The writers were British, and indications are that they may have learned the word from British sailors and seal hunters. Where these sailors and hunters got the word, we cannot say.
The sailors had all heard stories of ships capsized by the williwaws that plagued the strait.
"… he could see the downdraft kicking up sea spray and moving straight toward his airplane as he taxied on the water, a sign the williwaw was powerful." — Scott Christiansen, The Kodiak (Alaska) Daily Mirror, 14 Sept. 2007
Test Your Vocabulary with M-W Quizzes
Test Your Vocabulary
What 6-letter word begins with "b" and ends in "r" and can be used as a form of informal address (like buddy) or, in Australia, can refer to a sudden violent wind coming from the south?VIEW THE ANSWER
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