The Dictionary of Winds

Sunday June 02, 2019 Written by Ronan


We all know what type of wind the word “Typhoon” or “Nor’easter” refers to. But what about a “Barber”, or a “Doctor”? The former, it turns out, is the name for the type of wind that blows damp snow into your hair or beard, while the latter is a cooling sea breeze in the Tropics. They’re just two of the 75-or-so very specific wind names listed on GG Weather, the website of San Francisco weather consultant Jan Null.

Despite the familiarity of a few names on the list, the collection highlights our paltry vocabulary when it comes to describing the very air we breath (or get blown around by). It brings to mind anthropologist Franz Boas’ infamous (and controversial) observation that Eskimos have 50 words to describe snow. Which is all very well and good if it’s true, but how many did the average Eskimo know and use day to day?

If we’re looking to fill this lexical lacunae, a good place to start might be our own backyard. Australia has just three wind names on Null’s list: the Fremantle Doctor (a refreshing seabreeze in Western Australia which offers welcome relief for cricketers sweating out in the summer sun); the Brickfielder (a wind emanating from the South Australian desert); and the Willy-willy (a tropical cyclone blowing at least 33 knots, a.k.a. the dust devil). Now we just need a word for whatever is blowing out of Canberra [boom tish].