Friday, January 26, 2007

Hump This: Maelstrom

Hump This is a (quasi-)weekly Friday feature where you, the WordHumper reader, choose which lucky word gets humped back to the stoneage (or at least to Proto-Indo-Europa). Today's request comes from AM in Brooklyn, Norway who writes:
I'm a Viking princess and am leading a fleet of longships on an RPP* raid of an idyllic Christian village of peasant farmers. However, my friend Thorvald the Berserker warned me of some nasty maelstrom action off the coast of Norway. What's up with maelstrom? Sounds Dutch.
AM, how right you are! Maelstrom, which has become a generic term for a large whirlpool or turbulent situation, started off life as a proper noun on Dutch maps of the 17th (or possibly 16th) century and referred to a massive whirlpool in the Arctic Ocean off the Lofoten Islands of Norway**. The first definitive use of maelstrom is from a 1673 book written by a pastor living in the Faroes, but despite what those tricky Faroese would have you believe the word is of Dutch origin, literally meaning "grinding-stream." The first element mael, comes from the Dutch verb malen, meaning "to grind" and is the root of our modern English word meal.

Have fun storming the village!

If you have a word you'd like humped please email it, along with your location, to wordhumper.

*RPP: Rape, pillage, plunder - a favorite Viking pasttime

**The Lofotens also happen to be home of the village of Å, which is my favorite name for a town anywhere in the world.

maelstrom [OED]

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:: posted by David, 9:27 AM


When did it come to mean some sorta horrendous downpour or storm as someone's mother uses it?
Blogger Loocite, at 7:47 PM  

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