In one of my earlier posts I had written that the word “Cyclone” had been coined in the 1840s by Henry Piddington, who had first been a British sea captain, and later appointed President of the Marine Courts of Inquiry at Calcutta (now Kolkata).

Recently I could access a book written by Piddington in 1848 which had this long title: “The Sailor’s Horn-Book for the Law of Storms: Being a Practical Exposition of the Theory of the Law of Storms, and Its Uses to Mariners of All Classes in All Parts of the World, Shewn by Transparent Storm Cards and Useful Lessons”.

Given below is an extract from this book in which Piddington explains how he arrived at this new word “cyclone”:  

[… I am not altogether averse to new names, but I well know how sailors, and indeed many landsmen, dislike them; I suggest, however, that we might perhaps for all this last class of circular or highly curved winds, adopt the term “Cyclone” from the Greek kuklos (which signifies amongst other things the coil of a snake) as neither affirming the circle to be a true one, though the circuit may be complete, yet expressing sufficiently the tendency to circular motion in these meteors. We should by the use of it be able to speak without confounding names which may express either straight or circular winds—such as “gale, storm, hurricane,” &c.—with those which are more frequently used (as hurricane) to designate merely their strength. This is what leads to confusion, for we say of, and we the authors ourselves write about, ships and places in the same “storm” having “the storm commencing—”, “the gale increasing—”, “the hurricane passing over—” and the like; merely because the ships or localities of which we speak had the wind of different degrees of strength, though the whole were experiencing parts of the same circular storm. Cycloidal is a known word, but it expresses relation to a defined geometrical curve and one not approaching our usual views, which are those of something nearly, though not perfectly, circular. Now if we used a single word and said “the cyclone commenced, increased, passed over, &c.”, we shall get rid of all this ambiguity, and use the same word to express the same thing in all cases; and this without any relation….]

Henry Piddington’s book of 355 pages is available in Google Books for reading online or as a pdf download. Click on the thumbnail below to go to the Google Books link.

  

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