• typhoon •
Pronunciation: tai-fun • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: A tropical cyclone in the Pacific or Indian Oceans.
Notes: English seldom has different words for the same thing depending upon where it occurs. Today's Good Word is an exception. A tropical cyclone that disrupts the Atlantic Ocean is a hurricane, while the same thing in the Pacific is called a typhoon. A typhoon's behavior is typhonic, which is to say, it behaves typhonically.
In Play: If you live on the West Coast, you could be forgiven for saying something like this: "Clean up your room! It looks as if a typhoon passed through here." But typhoons are not to be taken lightly; typhoon Bopha left over 1000 people dead in the Philippines in December 2012.
Word History: The history of typhoon forms a long and fascinating web, tracing back to two sources. It traveled from Greece to Arabia and on to India, but combines features of a word that arose independently in China. The Greek word tuphon was a common noun meaning "whirlwind, typhoon". The Arabic version of the Greek word, tufan, passed into the languages of India, where Arabic-speaking Muslims had settled in the 11th century. The British colonialists brought it home to England from India in the 16th century, where it was first spelled touffon and tufan, in keeping with the Arabic. The modern form, typhoon, is a blend of the Greek-Arabic word and Cantonese (Chinese) taifung "great wind", hence the tai- in the first syllable, spelled ty- in English. The various forms coalesced and finally became typhoon, first appearing in 1819 in Shelley's Prometheus Unbound.