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Irene is no longer a hurricane, and Muammar Gadaffi is no longer "brother leader" of Libya. As I noted hyperbolically a few months ago ("Spelling champion", 2/11/2011), the ex-brother-leader's name was "the last hold-out for the Elizabethan approach to spelling".

As a memorial to the traditional orthographic creativity of the English language, I give you the OED's list of hurricane variants:

α. 15 furacane, furicano(e, 15–16 furacana, 16 foracan(e, furicane. β. 15 haurachana, 15–16 (18) hurricano, 16 haraucana, haroucana, haracana; her(r)i-, hery-, hira-, hire-, hyrra-, hyrri-, ( hurle-, hurli-), ( h)uracano. γ. 15–16 uracan, 16 heri-, huri-, ( hurle-, oran-), urycan; harau-, haura-, heri-, heuri-, herocane, harrycain, 16–18 hurrican, 16– hurricane.

The etymology:

< Spanish huracan, Old Spanish *furacan, Portuguese furacão, from the Carib word given by Oviedo as huracan, by Peter Martyr (as transl. by R. Eden) as furacan. Thence also Italian uracano (Diez), French ouragan, Dutch orkaan, German, Danish, Swedish orkan. The earlier English forms reflect all the varieties of the Spanish and Portuguese, with numerous popular perversions, hurricane being itself one, which became frequent after 1650, and was established from 1688. Earlier use favoured forms in final -ana, -ano, perhaps deduced from the Spanish plural huracanes (but words from Spanish were frequently assumed to end in -o.


  1. Ralph Hickok said,

    August 28, 2011 @ 9:34 am

    Of course, King Lear's outburst against the storm includes "hurricanoes."

  2. Spell Me Jeff said,

    August 28, 2011 @ 11:02 am

    A few hours' drive from my home in Utah is a small city called Hurricane. Wikipedia gives the pronunciation as ˈhɜrɨkən, and that matches my experience. You might think Utah's redrock country is an unlikely spot for a hurricane. Everyone in Utah jokes about it. Wikipedia explains the name thus:

    Hurricane received its name after a whirlwind blew the top off of a buggy that Erastus Snow was riding in. Snow exclaimed, "Well, that was a Hurricane. We'll name this 'Hurricane Hill.'"

    Snow was an early settler and a bigwig in the Mormon Church.

  3. DJ said,

    August 28, 2011 @ 11:23 am

    Too bad we didn't stick with "furacan(e)"; it has much more the force/fury of a huge storm than "hurricane" does.

  4. Rodger C said,

    August 28, 2011 @ 12:07 pm

    Two unrelated points:

    Spanish initial f was pronounced /h/ in Peter Martyr's time.

    Hurricane, WV is pronounced like the one in Utah, when it doesn't rhyme with "gherkin."

  5. Bob Ladd said,

    August 28, 2011 @ 1:32 pm

    Re the pronunciation of Hurricane WV and Hurricane UT: in British English the word is always pronounced with a schwa in the final syllable, unlike the American pronunciation with the secondary stressed full vowel /e:/.

  6. bloix said,

    August 28, 2011 @ 4:05 pm

    "I must admit they have a rockin' band
    Man they were blowin' like a hurrican'"

  7. Lazar said,

    August 28, 2011 @ 5:26 pm

    @Bob Ladd: I'm not sure on "always". Cambridge Online attests both versions for UK English, and I'm pretty sure I've heard some English people (at least on TV) use the full-vowel pronunciation.

  8. Rubrick said,

    August 28, 2011 @ 5:34 pm

    That, Mark, was a truly masterful tying together of two utterly unrelated current events.

  9. Ahalpuh said,

    August 28, 2011 @ 5:40 pm

    Hun Raqan, the name of the Mayan hurricane god, means "one leg". Many of their gods and nobles have names of the pattern "number thing", but rarely are they so self-explaining. Still, Wikipedia doesn't ultimately derive it from Mayan but, like the OED does, from Carib or elsewhere from Taíno. Is the Mayan "one-legged" semantics pure coincidence?

  10. Xmun said,

    August 28, 2011 @ 5:56 pm

    Contemporaneousness is surely some form of relation.

  11. Dw said,

    August 28, 2011 @ 9:40 pm

    @Bob Ladd:

    If you're going to mention the British pronunciation, you may as well add that the first syllable doesn't rhyme with "fir", owing to the absence of the hurry-furry merger.

  12. Herman Burchard said,

    August 29, 2011 @ 2:33 am

    Ahalpuh, word derived from Carib or . . . from Taíno

    Would like to know: which is it?

    The Taino (Arawak) arrived first in the Antilles archipelago. Caribs later conquered them, but adopted the women so that "Carib" women spoke Taino when first met by Europeans. Columbus noticed wounds on the bodies of men and was told about raiding parties from near islands [Wikipedia].

  13. rgh said,

    August 29, 2011 @ 4:21 am

    Haringay,Harringay,Harringey,Haringey in North London.
    River Lee or Lea in East London.

  14. Anthea Fleming said,

    August 29, 2011 @ 5:50 am

    Re Ahalpuh's comment: Cyclones (same as hurricanes) are common in the Wet Season in northern Australia. The funnel-shaped whirlwind which descends from the cloud cover is sometimes called a leg, but I don't know if this is derived from an indigenous language or is just English. It looks rather leg-like so the concept could arise quite independently in different languages.

  15. Rodger C said,

    August 29, 2011 @ 7:55 am

    Henry Fuseli did a rather preposterous engraving of Hun Raqan, of which I can't seem to find an image.

  16. Jim said,

    August 29, 2011 @ 12:39 pm

    "Too bad we didn't stick with "furacan(e)"; it has much more the force/fury of a huge storm than "hurricane" does."

    But that is something different. A furacane is what happens is when you pet your cat in August, in the middle of shedding season.

  17. Army1987 said,

    August 29, 2011 @ 12:42 pm

    So it seems like the /f/ -> /h/ -> 0 shift in Spanish occurred *much* later than I imagined.

  18. blahedo said,

    August 29, 2011 @ 8:18 pm

    Do we know the distribution in the US of the /-kejn/ vs /-kən/ pronunciation? My jaw dropped this morning when I finally heard a clip of Obama's speech over the weekend (the hope for the best, prepare for the worst speech): I had imagined the /-kən/ to be a feature of a few East Coast dialects, but there was Obama using it. Or did I mishear?

  19. Soto said,

    August 29, 2011 @ 10:02 pm

    @Ahalpuh and @Herman Burchard:

    I had always been taught that the word hurricane comes from the Taino language. The huraca'n was the storm that frequently struck Puerto Rico (which the Taino called Boriquen or Borinquen, I've seen both) and was made up of three spirits, primarily the wind, known as Guabencex.

    This may be biased since I am Puerto Rican and heard all of this from relatives (Puerto Rico was a Taino island when Columbus arrived). I do not have any scholarly reference, but I will throw in a website as a meager attempt at citation:

  20. Hermann Burchard said,

    August 30, 2011 @ 7:02 am


    Thanks for the great explanation, beautiful website. Her S-shaped arms indicate a clockwise rotation which at first confused me, but if you look up at the sky, you see the huraca'n from below, the mirror image of satellite pics, ie., rotating clockwise for the inflow (satellite images show the inflow at sea level turning counterclockwise, clockwise rotation aloft of outflow).

  21. Rodger C said,

    August 30, 2011 @ 7:51 am

    @blahedo: As I posted elsewhere, I grew up in West Virginia using the schwa, then had to learn to pronounce it with the diphthong to sound like a genuine American, i.e. from Ohio.

  22. This Week’s Language Blog Roundup | Wordnik ~ all the words said,

    September 2, 2011 @ 12:37 pm

    […] word mad libs with hurricane and earthquake news. At the Language Log, Mark Liberman rounded up hurricane variants and origins, while Ben Zimmer – and K International – had fun with the mock Spanglish of […]

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