Hurricane Irene: What’s In A Name?

For the past couple of days up here in New England, we are talking about Hurricane Irene. Constantly. We loyally watch every weatherperson’s analysis of its path, as well as their predictions on landfall location and time. One thing has become clear, we will be getting strong winds and significant amounts of rainfall. We will be the worst hit on Sunday.

Yesterday I realized how inappropriate a hurricane name Irene is.  ‘Irene’ is a Greek word that means ‘peace’. Obviously, there is nothing remotely peaceful about a hurricane; there is calm in their eye, but that’s about it. Hurricanes bring destruction and damage, not peace. Thus I am awarding ‘Hurricane Irene’ the title of the Oxymoron Of The Week.

Perhaps we are attempting the good old trick of euphemism. Ancient Greeks used to give good names to bad things, substitute the unpleasant with something, well, pleasant. In Greek we call the Black Sea, a historically difficult to navigate sea, Εὔξεινος Πόντος meaning Hospitable Sea.  This name replaced the original Aξεινος Πόντος meaning Inhospitable Sea. I can only imagine the morale of the seamen called in for the voyage to the Inhospitable Sea: “Uh, sorry, Captain, something came up,” the sailor announced. “Oh, really, what?” the Captain inquired. “My wife, Captain. She is due. Very soon,” the sailor said. “Oh, I see… Wait, didn’t your wife just give birth a month ago?” the Captain probed. “Miracle, Captain, miiiiiraaaacleeee!” the sailor shouted, as he ran away as fast as he could.

Just like another euphemism, the Cape of Good Hope (original name: Cape of Tempests), by naming the hurricane ‘Irene’, instead of, say, Hurricane Terminator, we are hoping it will be as peaceful as possible, as far as out in the ocean as possible. Perhaps our wishful thinking and peaceful naming will do the trick. But then again, it’s a hurricane we’re talking about, inherently powerful and potentially destructive. We’d better pay attention to the weather forecasts, be prepared and keep calm.


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