Sastrugi: ridges of snow formed on a snowfield by the action of the wind
March 7, 2015 3:15 AM   Subscribe

With the recent news that nature words are being removed from children's dictionaries, I'm looking for many more nature words and their definitions to add to my lexicon. Books, blog posts, whatever, I'll take them all. The more obscure and localised the better. (Title taken from here).
posted by Solomon to Writing & Language (10 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
Santa Ana winds in Southern California, for example?
posted by SLC Mom at 8:10 AM on March 7, 2015

The first comment in that threat links to Edith Wharton making a similar claim in 1919 and the examples she gives are "copse, spinney, hedgerow, the dale, the vale, the weald".
posted by XMLicious at 8:18 AM on March 7, 2015

And as far as named winds go there's also sirocco and harmattan and gregale.
posted by XMLicious at 8:26 AM on March 7, 2015

Simoom is one of my favorites, it's a hot dry wind. A lot of cultures have their own localized words for the winds that come through. Wikipedia has a list. There are also a few good ones under the Storm category as well. Haboob, firecane, derecho. And the Forest category: cockshoot, taiga, tugay. You can find a lot of cool words like this is you search for archaic terms, so like this list of archaic or unusual words used in Tolkienhas some beauts: daffadowndilly, lob, mast-lands.
posted by jessamyn at 9:00 AM on March 7, 2015

If you want a book that goes through all the different types of wind, then you need the book Heaven's Breath: A Natural History of the Wind by Lyall Watson, a delightful book of wind-naming as well as other weather phenomena (and is often the grandfather source for a lot of books/articles etc on wind taxonomy).

Travels by William Bartam is a book about a naturalist's travels through the American south in the mid 1770s and just rife with delightful nature language. You can also buy it as part of Penguin's Nature Classics Series (a series, that for your purposes, is difficult to go wrong with any book).

IMHO the best books and other media for nature nomenclature come from people who spend a lot of time among it considering it (i.e. any of John Muir's books) or working within it either as a professional or serious hobbyist, particularly biologists/ecologists for a specific, local area; fishing & sailors for the ocean; and mountain climbers for the mountains. (Any good book about whaling from the 1850s is wonderful for terms of ocean nomenclature.) So a book like Encyclopedia of Mountaineering by Walt Unsworth is literally composed of terms, and with much delight you can open up to an entry on say, VERGLAS (thin ice on rocks) which ends with "see HOAR FROST."

Also, and this is really simple, but a really good, thick, print version thesaurus has lots and lots of terms for nature with its attempts to include all the various synonyms, particularly if it's a thesaurus that divides the terms into sections by type.

Lastly, my all-time favorite concentration of nature terms is this op-ed from the NYT which collected all of the words for rain from the OED into one large article: Pluviocabulary by Ben Schott.
posted by barchan at 9:35 AM on March 7, 2015 [1 favorite]

Oh! I forgot 2 things: 1) John A. Shimer's Field Guide to Landforms of the United States.

2) There are lots of nature terms I adore but my favorite is thalweg: the deepest part of a river channel.
posted by barchan at 9:46 AM on March 7, 2015

Krummholtz: forest of gnarled and stunted trees, usually upper elevation.

Shimagare: wave regeneration of high elevation fir (Abies). Found in Japan and Argentina, and in northern New York, New Hampshire and Maine in the US.
posted by release the hardwoods! at 11:28 AM on March 7, 2015

Geology is your friend!
A fun starting place is this list of landforms, but here are a bunch that come to mind - many you probably know but maybe some are new:

Igneous/volcanic formations: dike, sill, batholith, pluton, lava tube, traps, maar,

Types of volcanic rock: ʻAʻā lava, pāhoehoe lava, column basalt, pillow lava, tuff, tephra

Tallish: tuya, tepui, monadnock, tor, fell, mesa, potrero, butte, bluff, crag, mogote

Erosion: stacks, hoodoos, badlands, yardang, karst makes lots of weird landscapes (eg tsingy in Madagascar, clints+grikes or scowles in England; foibes, dolines, cenotes,...),

Caves: speleothems include stalactites, stalagmites, etc.... everything from moonmilk to snottites

Glaciers leave behind lots of landforms: kettles, moraines of several kinds, drumlins, eskers, kames, tarns, cirques, aretes, fjords/gorges/hanging valleys, and my favorite, roche moutonee.

Rivers: meander, ox-bow lake

Deserts: erg, hamada, desert pavement/varnish (which have their own terms in several languages - reg, gibber), barchan dunes (which are like sand sastrugi), playas

Shoreline: shoals and spits; straits and sounds; guts and gats; bights and bars; rias, tombolos, ayres;

Other: grabens, alases, paha, loess, other types of soil; haors and beels; moors, heaths; fens, bogs
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:15 PM on March 7, 2015 [2 favorites]

The word-hoard is about the words of the British Isles that are being lost.
posted by mearls at 8:31 PM on March 8, 2015

You might also like Home Ground: A Guide to the American Landscape, edited by Barry Lopez, in which different writers define landscape terms.
posted by megancita at 7:00 AM on March 15, 2015

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