After the storm

I've been waiting months to use this, and after nearly losing a pot-plant to the winds last night, I think the time has come: YOSANO Akiko on typhoons (and neologisms).

Amusing, this new word taifū (台風). Risshū began just a few days ago, so in the traditional terminology this storm would be a nowaki (野分, "field-parter"). "Nowaki" has the right flavor for haiku and lyrics, but not for science. The Heian period's refined sensibilities, as exemplified by Sei Shōnagon's "It is the day after the nowaki that is really moving", have of course been transmitted to the people of today, so it isn't that we don't feel the elegance of the word nowaki -- but it is nevertheless insufficient to express our own experience (実感) of these storms. In our modern lives, when we encounter a violent wind and rain, forewarning of which is announced from the weather towers, with science bustling at their back -- "Passing Luzon, it will come ashore at the southern coast of Kii before cutting a path across the center of Japan to come out in the Japan Sea and eventually reach Korea" -- we somehow do not feel satisfied unless we use some new jargon like taifū to refer to it.

Taifū was not in fact a new word, but it was new to Japanese when Yosano was alive. The early etymology of the word itself is summarized neatly at Etymology.com, and the Nihon gogen daijiten explains that Japan adopted it only during the Meiji period.

Apparently, it was initially written in katakana with the final /n/ (タイフーン), which indicates that the direct borrowing was from English, even though the word is attested in Chinese by that point as 颱風 (pre-simplification equivalent of modern 台風) or 太風. It wasn't until meteorologist OKADA Takematsu used kanji and a standardized Sino-Japanese pronunciation in his important works on the subject in the early 1900s that Japan gave in and just started writing it in kanji too.

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The etymology of this word seems a whirlwind in itself, coming back as kanji after the katakana phase during the crossing of the eye...


I thought it was much simpler myself. Now I feel foolish.

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