Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The Weather of My Life

As a stereotypical wandering Jew, I have been privileged to experience many types and descriptions of weather in my life.  On a linguistic note, the most interesting aspect is the terminology or lack thereof describing them.  I present a brief autobiographical weather tour.

I grew up in L.A., a city loved by many but not by me.  In LA, in the sixties, we had the famous Sig Alert, a measurement of smog, a wonderful American combination in itself of smoke and fog.  As I recall, at Sig 1, it was recommended that people with breathing problems stay home; At Sig 2, the schools were closed; at Sig 3, factories were closed.  I understand that pollution SIGgy days no longer occur in LA or they just don’t report them.

I lived in Paris for six months.  Maybe because I was young, I don’t remember anybody talking about the weather at all.  Apparently, they were too busy talking about the latest restaurant or the previous/next vacation.  There is something to be said for this approach.

I then moved to Oregon.  The Pacific Northwest, western Oregon and Washington, offers a long list of jokes about the climate: it rains twice a year, from January to June and June to January and Oregonians don’t tan, they rust, to name a few.  In reality, a good year is three months without rain while a bad year is one month without rain.  Granted, generally the rain is not strong, closely resembling a permanent drizzle.  Similar to the Japanese approach to describing a short person, avoidance, i.e. the person next to the tall man, Oregonians talk about the sun, not the rain: There may be sun today or No chance of the sun breaking through today.  This is an example of reference by ignoring.

I now live in Israel, where rain is a blessing and reason for a blessing.  In fact, interestingly, there are words to describe the first and last rain of the season, יורה [yoreh] and מלקוש [malkosh], respectively.  At this moment, I am enjoying a late version of the latter on Shevuot, rendering me a bit sad that I won’t hear the sound of rain drops until October or November.  Alas, instead we will have חמסין [hamsine], an Arabic word meaning 50, or שרב [sharav], the Hebrew word referring to days with a hot, eastern desert wind, which sucks out all of the oxygen and drives everybody crazy.  This phenomenon is more common worldwide, called the Santa Ana winds in L.A. for example.  Yet, it does have a special word locally.

So, if you have a unique weather term in your part of the world, let me know.  I will be happy to share it.

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