Wednesday, February 20, 2008


In The Nature of Greek Myths (p. 48), G.S. Kirk makes the following comment:

'Typhoeus (in his alternative form Typhon the origin of 'typhoon') succumbed to Zeus, but in a later epoch Boreas, the north wind, snatched away Oreithyia, daughter of Erechtheus King of Athens, much as Hades had ravished Kore-Persephone.'

In other words, Kirk derives our English word 'typhoon' from the Greek monster. Barry Powell, on the other hand, remarks in Classical Mythology as follows (5th ed., p. 100 n. 5):
'Our word typhoon, really from the Chinese term tai fung, "violent wind," derives its form by analogy with Typhon (= Typhoeus). Typhus and typhoid fever also come from the Greek monster, for both arouse a wild delirium in the patient.'

This made me curious to check the etymology in the OED. Here is what they give:
[Two different Oriental words are included here: (1) the {alpha}-forms (like Pg. tufão, {dag}tufõe) are a. Urd{umac} (Persian and Arabic) {tdotbl}{umac}f{amac}n a violent storm of wind and rain, a tempest, hurricane, tornado, commonly referred to Arab. {tdotbl}{amac}fa, to turn round (nouns of action {tdotbl}auf, {tdotbl}awaf{amac}n), but possibly an adoption of Gr. {tau}{gumac}{phi}{gwfrown}{nu} TYPHON2; (2) the {beta}- and {gamma}- forms represent Chinese tai fung, common dialect forms (as in Cantonese) of ta big, and fêng wind (hence also G. teifun). The spelling of the {beta}-forms has apparently been influenced by that of the earlier-known Indian word, while that now current is due to association with TYPHON2.]

(Sorry, the formatting did not transfer, and I'm not sure how to fix it.)

The earliest citations for 'typhoon' and 'typhon' (this latter derived from the Greek), with current spellings that are nearly identical, present an interesting contrast. The OED's earliest citation for 'typhoon', from 1588, is:
I went a boord of the Shippe of Bengala, at which time it was the yeere of Touffon. Ibid. 35 This Touffon or cruell storme endured three dayes and three nightes.

The OED's earliest citation for 'typhon', from 1555, mentions the Greeks explicitly:
These tempestes of the ayer (which the Grecians caule Tiphones that is whyrle wyndes) they caule, Furacanes.

The second citation (1585) does as well:
A wind called by the Gretians Typhon, of Plinie Vertex or Vortex.

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