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Word of the day: orkaan (hurricane)

Not surprisingly the words of the last few days had to do with wind and storm. Monday morning (28 October 2013) the heaviest storm since 1990 swept over the Netherlands). Today (Tuesday) was a typical autumn day with sunny spells, showers and occasional gusts of wind. 


Yesterday the storm reached hurricane-force 12 in the island of Vlieland. A hurricane is an ORKAAN in Dutch. This beautiful word entered the Dutch language in the early 16th century by way of Spanish ‘huracán’. 

Sources in Nicoline van der Sijs’ Etymologiebank tell us that it is likely that the original word was from the Mayan culture in Central America.

Apparently the Maya worshiped a ferocious god called ‘Hun-r-akan’. The name means the one-legged deity. He was the god of wind, storm, fire and one of the deities who tried to create humanity. After the second generation of humans angered the gods, he caused the Great Flood.

This deity appears in the shape of the constellation of the Ursa Major, the Great Bear or the Big Dipper, and in Dutch: de Grote Beer. The Dutch also call this sign of the zodiac ‘het steelpannetje’ because the formation of the stars look like a saucepan with its handle pointing downwards. During the hurricane season the Ursa Major frequently appears in the sky, so the Maya attributed the fierce winds to the deity with the one leg.

The French called the ORKAAN ‘huracan’ (since 1553) and now they say ‘ouragan’. The Portuguese called it ‘furacão’ (because they overcompensated ‘h’ with ‘f’), the Italians ‘uracano’, the Germans ‘Orkan’ (since 1669) and the Danes and Swedes derived their ‘orkan’ from the Dutch word.

In ‘King Lear’ and ‘Troilus and Cressida’ William Shakespeare makes use of the word ‘hurricano’ but he refers to waterspouts instead of storms.

The bronze statue of a woman with her two kids and umbrellas on the bike was created in 1995 by Frans Kokshoorn (Voorburg, 1947). You can find it on the corner of Rozenboomlaan and Prins Bernhardlaan in Voorburg. The title of the statue is ‘Singing in the rain‘.