Build your vocabulary with Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day! Each day a Merriam-Webster editor offers insight into a fascinating new word -- explaining its meaning, current use, and little-known details about its origin.
November 5th, 2015
Episode 371 of 903 episodes
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for November 05, 2015 is: williwaw \WILL-ih-waw\ noun 1 a : a sudden violent gust of cold land air common along mountainous coasts of high latitudes b : a sudden violent wind 2 : a violent commotion Examples: The sailors had all heard stories of ships capsized by the williwaws that plagued the strait. " he could see the downdraft kicking up sea spray and moving straight toward his airplane as he taxied on the water, a sign the williwaw was powerful." Scott Christiansen, The Kodiak (Alaska) Daily Mirror, 14 Sept. 2007 Did you know? In 1900, Captain Joshua Slocum described williwaws as "compressed gales of wind that Boreas handed down over the hills in chunks." To unsuspecting sailors or pilots, such winds might seem to come out of nowherejust like word williwaw did some 170 years ago. All anyone knows about the origin of the word is that it was first used by writers in the mid-1800s to name fierce winds in the Strait of Magellan at the southern tip of South America. The writers were British, and indications are that they may have learned the word from British sailors and seal hunters. Where these sailors and hunters got the word, we cannot say.