The derecho guy

In the latest World Wide Words newsletter (#792, 7/7/12), Michael Quinion explains words in the news:

The devastating storms in the eastern United States last weekend had a linguistic consequence. Reports on them brought to public notice a term long known to professional meteorologists: derecho (pronounced as /dəˈreɪtʃoʊ/ …). It’s a loanword from Spanish, in which it means “straight”. It refers to a fast-moving storm with a straight or slightly bowed wavefront that travels long distances across country, the linear equivalent of a rotating tornado. The term was first used in 1888 by Professor Gustavus Hinrichs of the University of Ohio in a paper entitled Tornados and Derechos.

Hmm… University of Ohio? There’s an Ohio University and an Ohio State University, but no University of Ohio (and in the United States, University of X and X University are not in general interchangeable).

Armed with my suspicions of “University of Ohio”, I looked up Hinrichs — NOAA page here, Wikipedia page here— and discovered that he was professor of Natural Philosophy, Chemistry, and Modern Languages at the University of Iowa. Ah, the middle-American states-with-I-in-them confusion, in this case compounded by a four-letter-state confusion. If you’ve lived in the area, you know that there are two substantial states in between Ohio and Iowa (Indiana and Illinois), but many other people have trouble keeping the two states apart.

In an aside in “Punctuation and Human Freedom” (in The Great Eskimo Vocabulary Hoax), Geoff Pullum noted that linguist Catherine Ringen of the University of Iowa (in Iowa City, Iowa) had a T-shirt that spoke to this confusion of “non-coastal states with ‘I’ in their names”:

University of Iowa, Idaho City, Ohio

(Bill Ladusaw had one too.)

And I tackled the problem in a 2005 Language Log posting on “The I states”:

From The Advocate of 7/5/05, p. 10, a correction:

Author Vestral McIntyre, whose book You Are Not the One was featured in our June 7 issue, is from Idaho, not Iowa. The Advocate regrets the errors.

Oh, those I states! Especially the dactylic ones. Especially in the middle of the country. So hard to keep apart. Sometimes Ohio gets in there. And Indiana and Illinois.

Then there are the middle M and W states (W is just M upside-down). Michigan, Minnesota, maybe Montana, certainly Wisconsin. Who can keep them straight? Badgers, wolverines, whatever.

Michael Quinion will publish a correction in this Saturday’s newsletter.


3 Responses to “The derecho guy”

  1. The Ridger Says:

    I have noted that people around here – and on the radio – have been saying derecho to rhyme with Jericho. I wonder if the phenomenon is rare enough that the correction will never be made.

  2. John Lawler Says:

    Derecho is a very important word when learning Spanish directional terms: (a la) izquierda ‘(to the) left’; (a la) derecha ‘(to the) right’; (al) derecho ‘straight ahead’. One learns immediately to pay close attention to gender suffixes, especially in taxicabs.

  3. arnold zwicky Says:

    Quinion’s correction (World Wide Words #793, 7/14/12) includes this report:

    John Estill wrote, “An old joke has an Ohioan introducing himself at a cocktail party as being from Ohio. His hostess, condescendingly tells him, ‘I hope you won’t mind, but around here we usually pronounce it “Iowa”.’”

Leave a Reply