• tourbillion •
Pronunciation: tur-bil-yên • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. A vortex, as a whirlwind or whirlpool. 2. A skyrocket with a spiral or spinning flight path.
Notes: No, this word has nothing to do with tours or billions, although it may have reached its current spelling through folk etymology influenced by these two words. The earlier French spelling, tourbillon, supports this interpretation.
In Play: The rapid spinning motion implied by today's Good Word may move on an upward trajectory: "Derry Yare rose to fame on a tourbillion of hype, talent, and skimpy outfits that was faster and more brilliant than anyone expected." It may also move downwards: "Canby Allgood was sucked into a tourbillion of ever-increasing corruption from which he could not escape."
Word History: Today's Good Word came into English from Old French torbeillon, which goes back ultimately to Latin turbo, a borrowing from Greek turbe "noise, confusion, turmoil". Once turbo arrived in Latin, it quickly went into the making of the verb turbare "to confuse, create turmoil". It also produced turbidus "muddy, full of confusion", which English borrowed, via French, as turbid "muddy". Turbulent is another related word based on the borrowed Greek word that came to us from Latin via French. In Latin it meant "boisterous, stormy, tempestuous" and was based on turbula "a disorderly crowd".