~posted by Anne C.
You might not think it, but some of the more interesting and challenging questions that come to the Business, Science and Technology desk at the Central Library actually have to do with language. Vagaries in definition, etymology, slang and dialect can be tough to resolve authoritatively, but are also fascinating to explore.
Here is a question we received recently over our Ask a Librarian email service, related to wintry weather words:
“Is there a term anywhere in the world, in any language, for the weather condition when it’s snowing and also sunny at the same time?”
For something potentially esoteric like this, fishing for clues in the ocean of the Internet is often the best initial strategy. In this case, I started out in Google and Google Books, looking for weather dictionaries about unusual phenomena or language learning sites with lists of weather-related words and phrases. Sites like this and this were fun, but didn’t hit the mark we needed.
Next, I turned to the library’s many weather-related encyclopedias and dictionaries, both in print and online. Things like the Oxford Dictionary of Weather (E-book), Facts on File Dictionary of Weather and Climate,and the Guinness Book of Weather Facts and Feats are all interesting and engrossing reads, and would be a great way to kill an hour, but none addressed this question.
Finally, I pulled out the librarian’s ace in the hole—the human expert—and emailed local Atmospheric Scientist and weather celebrity, Cliff Mass. Had he heard of a term for snowing while sunny? No, he had not! Well, then, at least I could rest assured I wasn’t missing anything obvious. Could we have found a “lexical gap”? Snow does fall while the sun shines. Maybe we simply haven’t yet invented an expression for this.
In the end, the best clue I could find came from a website called Lang-8, where language learners post essays they’ve written to receive help from native speakers. One anonymous participant recorded this journal entry:
It is windy today.
Some snow flakes were brought to my town in the sun shine.
Sometimes, we have a rain with the sun shine.
We call that phenomenon is “Kitsune no Yomeiri” as Fox’s wedding.
It is said that fox doesn’t want to show their wedding to human, so they give a shower to avoid any human eye.
In old days, people believed fox could trick human.
Do you know the Kurosawa Movie, Dream?
Kurosawa portrayed the fox wedding at the first of the movie.
Then what do we call the phenomenon, the snow with sun shine?
The fox wedding is a famous folk tale.
But this phenomenon doesn’t have any tale.
There is another animal in Japan that was considered to be able to trick human.
Tanuki is a unique animal that looks like raccoon.
So very limited people say that phenomenon is Tanuki no Yomeiri in the Joke.
What are your favorite, obscure weather words? We’d love to know!