Hurricane Sandy: No Time for Neologisms?
When it first became evident that Hurricane Sandy might merge with an inland snowstorm to create a superstorm, the creative labels started pouring in. Snowicane. Snor'eastercane. Frankenstorm. But now that the storm has shut down much of the East Coast, is it time to set aside such wordplay?
The coinages began when Sandy was still gathering in the Caribbean, in the middle of last week. On Wednesday, Eric Holthaus of the Wall Street Journal's Metropolis blog suggested snor'eastercane, blending snow, nor'easter, and (hurri)cane:
Odds are increasing that a hybrid "snor'eastercane" could make landfall near Greater New York early next week, with wide-ranging impacts affecting nearly the entire East Coast.
Jen Doll of The Atlantic Wire approved:
Hark, the three-word weather portmanteau! Portmanteauing in itself is wondrous, and this form is a thing of beauty, combining "snow" with "nor'easter" with "hurricane." When you take all of those things apart and look at them one by one, perhaps it's daunting—if you are the fearful type, even terrifying. But together there's a beautiful sibilance combined with a certain adorableness. The Tweeters of the world agree (sort of)! This is the best weathermanteau yet.
New York Magazine's Daily Intel, meanwhile, suggested snowicane:
That's right: It's worse than a storm known to history as the Perfect Storm. Because it's not just a storm, it's a snowicane. A Perfect Snowicane, Hurricarnage, or whatever portmanteau we collectively settle on eventually.
Gawker, however, went with snowcone:
Because it would be a combination snowstorm + hurricane, the proper name for this storm is "snowcane," but, as there is no time to learn new words in the midst of a crisis, you should refer to it as a "snowcone."
(Snor'eastercane, snowicane, and snowcone recall the snow-blending that was popular in the winter of 2010: see Ben Zimmer's Word Routes column, "SnOMG! It's Snowmageddon 2010.")
But the authoritative neologism came from the National Weather Service's Jim Cisco, who introduced Frankenstorm in a weather advisory on Thursday, October 26th. CNN's This Just In explained:
If you're wondering where "Frankenstorm" came from: The name appears to have picked up steam after meteorologists noticed the National Weather Service's Hydrometeorological Prediction Center's extended forecast discussion page from Thursday afternoon.
In that discussion, a prediction center meteorologist wrote that the unusual merger of Hurricane Sandy and the cold front would happen around Wednesday - Halloween - "inviting perhaps a ghoulish nickname for the cyclone along the lines of 'Frankenstorm,' an allusion to Mary Shelley's gothic creature of synthesized elements."
Linguist Arnold Zwicky noted that this isn't the first appearance of Frankenstorm:
The combining form Franken- (roughly, ‘monster') is a natural outgrowth of Frankenstein, applied especially to genetically modified (GM) organisms (e.g., Frankenfood), but it has wider uses as well, as in this posting from earlier this year:
Franken- hasn't confined itself to the GM world. Here's an extension (from Quinion's World Wide Words #675 of 1/30/10) to the weather:
Frankenstorm: The recent wild weather in California was the subject of a report from the Associated Press which appeared in various newspapers on Monday. Karen Courtenay read it in the Boston Globe: "A team of scientists hunkered down at the California Institute of Technology to work on a ‘Frankenstorm' scenario – a mother lode wintry blast that could potentially sock the Golden State.
In German, the name Frankenstein translates to "stronghold of freemen," most likely referring to various castles and battlements around the country that also carry the name. Mary Shelley however, believed the name came to her in a vivid dream. But now, in the case of "Frankenstorm," the application of the "Franken-" prefix might not be on point. In Shelley's novel, Dr. Victor Frankenstein never names his creation. Instead he disowns the monster by refusing to name it, referring to it as "demon," "thing," "wretched devil," and a long list of awful aliases.
But a more pointed complaint about Frankenstorm came from newsrooms. Baltimore Sun copy editor John McIntyre explained his newspaper's policy:
Yesterday, I sent this message to the newsroom staff: We will not be using the word "Frankenstorm" in coverage of Hurricane Sandy, because the term trivializes a serious and potentially deadly event. It's acceptable in direct quotes, but even there we shouldn't overdo it.
The Sun was following the lead of CNN. Erik Wemple of the Washington Post reported on the network's ban on the word:
Management at the network has issued a directive not to use "Frankenstorm," on the rationale that the storm is powerful and deadly. "Let's not trivialize it," said the directive, according to CNN meteorologist and severe weather expert Chad Myers.
"It's a term that's not appropriate for a storm that's already killed more than 20 people," says Myers. The directive doesn't much affect Myers, who says he's never used "Frankenstorm" on air; he did see a banner that deployed the term and dashed off a quick text message ordering its removal. "It's too big of an event to make fun of it."
What do you think? Does the severity of Sandy mean that wordsmiths should stop trying to come up with clever names for it? Let us know in the comments below.