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News You Don't Say

A wind from the northeast

The storm now afflicting New York and New Jersey and nearby states is either a northeaster or a nor'easter.

Northeaster is the older term, its first citation in the Oxford English Dictionary dating from 1753. Nor'easter blew in from the sea much later, first cited in a translation of Aristophanes' Knights by B.D. Walsh in 1837. 

Nor'easter, from the citations in the OED, appears to have been strongly dialectical, as in A.R. Ammons's Glare: "Well, it's Easter morning right now, with a nor'easter, out-of-whack, whipper-jawed, eight-inch dump load of snow on the ground." That's apparently how they see the word at The New York Times, Patrick LaForge having tweeted earlier today: "What is it about these storms that turns everyone into a Maine lobsterman? Use whatever fake accent you like but it's spelled 'northeaster.' "

Well, much as I love, admire, respect, and emulate The New York Times and all who labor therein, there's just a whisker of a chance that The Times may be a trifle prissy on the point. 

A check on the Google Ngram Viewer shows that northeaster has been the clearly dominant word for the past two centuries. But, the temptation to affect a Maine lobsterman's accent being apparently irresistible, the two words have gradually converged over the past forty years, to the point that it looks as if nor'easter is about to become the dominant usage. See for yourself.

We've been using nor'easter at The Sun the past couple of days. I fancy I may have heard someone grumbling about it behind my back. But, you know, you tune that out. 

 

 

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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