Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 82.djvu/276

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272
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY

THE LANGUAGE OF METEOROLOGY
By CHARLES FITZHUGH TALMAN,
U. S. WEATHER BUREAU

IN discussing the vocabulary of any branch of science one is embarrassed by the fact that scientific language in general is a neglected subject. The principles of scientific terminology and nomenclature (on the etymological side) are not, to my knowledge, taught in modern curricula; their formal exposition belongs to the scholarly literature of a past generation; and the writings of our contemporaries bear evidence of the fact that philology does not now enter to so large an extent as formerly into the equipment of the average man of science.

The student of to-day is, as a rule, left to make his own generalizations on this subject from the transformations in the technical vocabulary that happens to come under his observation; and his inductions suffer in proportion as these transformations become less orderly. When he arrives at the creative stage, and is called upon to label his contributions to knowledge, he is apt to still further increase the disorder of the language; and thus an interaction is going on that would speedily lead to chaos, if it were not checked by powerful though unrecognized laws governing the development of human speech—a pervasive "Sprachgefühl" that saves the language from falling into rapid ruin, though it can not protect it from gradual deterioration.

The fact that the underlying principles of terminology and nomenclature are not, to say the least, clearly formulated in the minds of most men of science makes it desirable, in discussing a particular group of technical terms or names, to begin far back of one's subject—just as it is desirable for a newspaper writer on Halley's comet to begin by enlightening the public in regard to the heavenly bodies in general. However, it is not practicable to follow such a plan within the limits of a brief paper. In the present case I shall cut the Gordian knot by simply referring my readers to the two statements of fundamental principles that I have myself found most illuminating—viz., the fourth book of William Whewel's "Novum Organon Renovatum" and Dr. Lereboullet's article "Etymologie" in the "Dictionnaire encyclopédique des sciences médicales"—and proceed at once to a discussion of some salient features of the language of meteorology.

One curious fact about this language is that a considerable part of it is unknown to meteorologists. Hundreds of useful terms have been introduced to fill the gaps in its vocabulary—some highly felicitous, others at least tolerable—only to sink into speedy oblivion, leaving their places unfilled. Take, for example, the names of the isograms—and