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July 2006 Archives

Fireworks: chrysanthemum shell (peony shell); shell, ground burst (gerb); maroon; hummer, whizzer; tourbillion; brocade, kamuro

Geography Words: graticule (shikari); cartogram, cartographer, choropleth; grabben, horst; orographic; moraine; swidden; prorupt

Words from Hawaiian: humuhumunukunukuapuaa; lanai; wahine; ukulele, luau; haole; muumuu; lei, haku

Volcano Words: aa, pahoehoe; lahar; solfatara (apoplexy); fumarole (magma); caldera; tephra



Today USns celebrate Independence Day. In 1776 John Adams, later to be the second president of the US, wrote his wife Abigail,


It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more.


In hono(u)r of the day, we'll look this week at some of the terms for those "bonfires and illuminations", the fireworks that traditionally close the Fourth of July celebration.

chrysanthemum shell – a spherical burst, in which the stars leave a visible trail
(contrast peony shell, in which the stars do not leave a trail)


The fireworks you see outdoors are generally shells.

shell – the most spectacular of fireworks comprising a lifting charge (to propel the shell into the air) and a bursting charge to eject stars or subassemblies in the air after a predetermined delay
ground burst – a low level burst of a shell; potentially very dangerous

What kind of firework would not be a shell? Here is an example.
gerb – a firework that throws out a shower of sparks. [French gerb sheaf of corn (wheat?)]


Interesting etymology today.

maroon – an exploding device that produces a loud bang
[from French marron chestnut (from the noise they make in a fire)]


A maroon makes a loud noise. Here is another noisemaker.

hummer – a device that produces a humming sound. It is usually a sealed tube and pierced near each end on opposite sides, so that the sound is made as the device spins rapidly in flight
whizzer – an American name for a hummer


tourbillion – 1. lit. or fig.: a whirling mass or system; a vortex; a whirl; an eddy, a whirlpool. 2. a firework which spins as it rises, forming a spiral or scroll of fire.
[from F. for 'whirlwind'; ultimately from Gr. 'noise, confusion'. accent on second syllable]


Franklin would swear that an American "set down in the tourbillion of such a great city as Paris must necessarily be for some days half out of his senses." He knew of what he spoke …
– Stacy Schiff, A Great Improvisation: Franklin, France, and the Birth of America

Aerial maroons, bombshells filled with stars, rockets fizzing in tens, fifties, hundreds and thousands, Roman candles, electric spray, tourbillions and diamond dust lit the night sky…
– Amanda Mackenzie Stuart, Consuelo and Alva Vanderbilt: [etc.]


brocade – a star that burns long, so that it leaves down-drooping trails of light as it falls
kamuro – like a brocade, but leaving longer trails; a sort of "weeping willow" effect

These two are from a 'fireworks' source; I am unable to confirm them. Other sources indicate that in Japanese, a kamuro is "a young female attendant in child-age of a high ranking prostitute," sort of a courtesan-in-training.



Geography Words

I generally don't limit my theme to a technical field, with words of specialized meaning "of that field". But since I did so last week, for fireworks words, let's do it again this week for words that have a geography meaning.

graticule – a network of fine lines as a measuring scale or to locate objects, as on an oscilloscope screen, or to facilitate re-scaling to another size. (Also, the crosshairs in a rifle scope.) geography: the latitude/longitude grid (would not be used for others, such as a street grid)


I asked the head shikari, "Anybody sight these scopes in? Graticules all checked?" And got a blank look. "You know," I said, "scopes have to be checked – atmospheric pressure, joggling around in jeeps, … that sort of thing. They get out of alignment."
– Robert Ruark, The Old Man's Boy Grows Older

Meridians and lines of latitude (parallels) form the global coordinate grid, or graticule.
– New Comparative World Atlas (Hammond)


Bonus word: shikari – a big-game hunter, or a guide for one


One more set of words about maps:

cartographer – a mapmaker

cartogram – a map showing statistical information graphically; e.g., countries are deliberately distorted so that the area of each is proportionate to its population.  This cartogram of the US sizes each state to represent its number of electoral votes. (Coloring is used to show how each state voted, a choropleth.)

choropleth – a map using shading or color to show a trait; e.g., colors indicate altitude; or darker shading indicates more-dense population.  This choropleth shows climate zones.


Processes that build up the earth can cause special features of the landscape. Illustrated here.

grabben – a rift valley; a lowered elongated block of the earth’s crust lying between geologic faults [German 'trench']
horst – a similar raised block [German 'heap']


… a series of odd cracks, fissures and grabens up to 7m deep. Most of those you see today were formed by earthquakes and dramatic fissuring and subsidence …
– Joe Bindloss, Paul Handing, Lonely Planet Iceland


orographic – relating to mountains; esp., associated with or induced by mountains: orographic rainfall


The north trades [winds] are moist when they reach the islands, but through orographic lifting, the air is relieved of most of its moisture as it passes over eastern Oahu's Koolau Mountains.
– Richard Sullivan, Driving and Discovering Oahu


A glacier will grind down the rock beneath it and move the debris that results. Sometimes that debris is bulldozed into a large mass.

moraine – a mass of rocks and sediment carried down and deposited by a glacier
[French dialect morre ‘snout’]


The fires burned through a wild area called Dogtown Common, an expanse of swamp and glacial moraine that was once home to the local crazy and forgotten.
– Sebastian Junger, The Perfect Storm


We end our geography theme, today and tomorrow, with terms about the human relationship with the globe.

swidden – an area cleared for temporary cultivation by cutting and burning the vegetation


… the road wound gently through a tunnel of dense foliage … The forest here was unmolested by loggers and swidden agriculture. Insects shrieked in the bamboo groves, and clouds of yellow butterflies corkscrewed in our wake.
– Andrew Marshall, The Trouser People: A Story of Burma [etc.]


Political geographers classify countries' shapes as compact, fragmented, elongated or prorupt.

In a compact country such as France, no part of its border lies extremely farther from the center than others. Thus it can easily be knit together with roads and rail (assuming no impeding mountains, etc.) and, relative to its size, is unlikely to have major internal differences. For these reasons it tends to be politically cohesive.

A fragmented country, like Indonesia, is broken into pieces, impeding internal travel. An elongated country (Chile), long and narrow, is hard to travel and may well have major internal differences of climate, culture, or ethic regions. All these factors make cohesion difficult, though varied climates may help create a more-diversified economy.

A prorupt country is mostly compact but has a significant appendage, which is very apt to become politically isolated. Examples are Namibia and Afghanistan (corridors), and Thailand and Myanmar (peninsulas).




Words from Hawaiian

Over the years we've looked at words from French, from Latin, from German, Spanish, Russian and Italian. Let's take a vacation to Hawaii and look at words from Hawaiian, starting with one that's humorously long and repeating.

humuhumunukunukuapuaa – a small trigger fish; the state fish of Hawaii

A look at the etymology cuts this imposing dozen-syllable name down to size. Humu and nuku mean 'trigger fish' and 'snout'; repetition of them, as with our 'itsy-bitsy', means 'a little one'. Thus
humu-humu-nuku-nuku is 'little trigger fish with a little snout'. Add a 'like' and puaa 'pig' and you have humu-humu-nuku-nuku-a-puaa, 'little trigger fish with a little pig-snout'.


lanai – a veranda or roofed patio


He helped her carry food and wine out to a table of wrought iron and glass on the lanai. She lit candles, though the sunset still glowed beyond the trees. They drank California burgundy with the meat loaf she had hastily prepared.
– Herman Wouk, War and Remembrance


wahine – 1. a Polynesian woman. 2. a woman surfer


Other sergeants, like Sgt. Seager, who had been in more than 20 years, lived off the post, "outside the fence," shacked up with a wahine.
– Edward Gorman, An American Education


Two words today, well-known but with interesting etymologies

ukulele – a small four-stringed guitar popularized in Hawaii ['uku, flea + lele, jumping. So called from the rapid motion of the fingers in playing it.]

luau – a Hawaiian feast [lit. "young taro tops," which were served at outdoor feasts]


haole – sometimes disparaging: a white person
[technically, anyone not of the aboriginal Polynesian inhabitants of Hawaii]


A haole man sat in a rocking chair on the lanai - the porch - his eyes closed, a blissful smile on his face.
– Alan Brennert, Moloka'i


muumuu – a long dress, loose and unbelted, hanging free from the shoulders


You're a happily married man and your wife asks you, "Honey, does this dress make me look fat?" … for most of us, little white lies are the gifts we give and receive to get through the day. They bear some risk, of course: If the dress really does make your wife look fat, and you lie to her, well, then she'll be out in public with a muumuu that is most definitely not flattering.
– Truthfully, Lying has its Place, Asbury Park (New Jersey) Press, July 21, 2006


lei – a Polynesian garland of flowers, esp. one worn around the neck
haku – a crown made of fresh flowers


An especially popular service offered by Hawaiian for arriving passengers is a traditional Hawaii lei greeting. Commented Lynette, "Getting a fresh flower lei and friendly greeting as you step off the plane is the perfect way to say 'Welcome to Hawaii.' Visitors really appreciate it."
– Hawaiian Airlines press release, July 17, 2005



Volcano Words

The Hawaiian Islands were formed by erupting volcanoes. So let's follow our Hawaiian theme with a volcanoes theme, beginning with a pair of Hawaiian volcano-words, for which the links give photos.

aa – lava having a rough surface [Hawaiian, 'to burn']
pahoehoe – lava with a smooth, glassy or rippled surface. [see also here]
[Hawaiian, reduplication of hoe, 'to paddle', probably from the swirls on its surface]


Not all lava is the same: A pahoehoe (pa-hoy-hoy) lava flow travels quickly and often forms smooth, ropy patterns, while an aa (ah-ah) lava flow moves slowly and hardens to form sharp chunks.
– Mackie Rhodes, Instructor, March, 2004


lahar – an mud-flow "avalanche" of volcanic ash and water, down the slopes of a volcano
[Javanese for lava']


Lahar and other volcanic debris cascaded down the slopes of Mt. Bulusan yesterday after heavy rain, sending residents in Casiguran and Irosin to flee to higher ground.
– Manila Standard Today, June 22, 2006


solfatara – a volcanic area that gives off sulfurous gases and steam
[from the Italian and Latin for 'sulfur']


St Lucia … seems to have everything: spectacular mountain scenery, a drive-in volcano with solfatara (steaming sulphur springs and malodorous gases that signify an active, but not apoplectic, volcano), a wild rainforest and a privately owned semi- tame one (the botanical gardens).
– Victoria Pybus, The Independent, July 11, 1998


Bonus word:
(adj. apoplectic) – a fit of extreme anger; rage [also the name of a medical condition]


fumarole – a hole in a volcanic area from which hot smoke and gases escape (see link)
[Italian, from Late Latin for 'smoke hole', diminutive of 'smoke chamber']


Down on the crater floor, [robot] Dante will play the role of field geologist, collecting information that Kyle and his colleagues have long desired. Most important, the robot will study the vapors rising from volcanic vents called fumaroles. … Escaping from inside the Earth, these gases contain clues about the source of the magma feeding Mt. Erebus. "For volcanoes, these gases -- the volatile elements like carbon dioxide and water--are like blood for a human being. They are the life body of a volcano," says Kyle.
– Richard Monastersky, Science News, June 6, 1992


Bonus word:
– hot fluid or semi-fluid rock within the earth’s crust


caldera – a crater formed by volcanic explosion or by collapse of a volcanic cone.
[Spanish 'cauldron']


This island is still growing, as a river of molten lava pours often from the caldera into the sea and has long been considered a spiritual place …
– Cultural inspiration on Hawaii's Big Island, Sunset, July, 2004

I spend two nights at the Lake Yellowstone Hotel, … a survivor of legions of tourists, … all drawn by the pageant of wildlife atop an ancient caldera. Miles below, like a buffed ember, is a hot spot through the crust, and the caldera awaits its wakeup call from a 600,000-year nap.
– Kerrick James, Travel America, May-June, 2004


tephra – solid matter ejected into the air by an erupting volcano
[Greek tephr, ash]


The 1980 eruptions of … Mount St. Helens showed that even relatively thin accumulations of tephra can disrupt social and economic activity over a broad region. Downwind, … Spokane received between 1 and 8 centimeters of ash and came to a near standstill for up to 2 weeks.
– Sid Perkins, Science News, Nov. 24, 2001