Origin of the Word Hurricane

Hurricanes are a fact of life and a recurring natural disaster for those living in “Hurricane Country”. But where and how did the word “hurricane” become part of our language?

There are two possible origins of the word “hurricane.” According to one source, the word “Hurricane” is derived from the Spanish word “huracn”, the origin of which is the Carib term for “God of Evil”. Other sources, however, postulate that the word is derived from the name of the Mayan storm god, “Hurakan.”

According to the Popol Vuh, which recounts the Mayan Creation Myth, Huracan (from Mayan Jun Raqan) is the ancient Mayan weather god of wind, storm, and fire. Hurakan is “the one-legged”, and one of three creator deities, collectively called “the Heart of Heaven,” that participates in three attempts at creating humanity first from mud, and then wood. The final and successful creation resulted in the creation of mankind from maize.

The Creation Myth also reveals that Hurakan caused the Great Flood after the first humans angered the gods. According to the myth, he lived in the windy mists above the floodwaters and repeatedly called forth the earth until land came up from beneath the seas. His “one legged” appearance refers to one of his legs having been transformed into a snake. His appearance features a snout-like nose, resembles that of the Aztec god Tezcatlipoca. Hurakan can also be spelled Hurrican, Huracan, & Harakan.

The Carib language is the language of indigenous people living among the northern coast of South America, stretching from Brazil to the Columbian Andes and northward to Venezuela. The Spanish explorer Columbus would have encountered the Carib language as well as the Arawak language during his attempts to find a westward passage to India.

Christopher Columbus recorded his first encounter with severe tropical storms, most likely hurricanes, in 1494 while visiting the island of Hispaniola. One year later, in 1495 Columbus marked the earliest definite report a mighty storm while in the West Indies. In his journal, Columbus noted “Nothing but the service of God and the extension of monarchy would expose me to such danger.” Three of his ships were sunk as a result of the storm’s fury.

Spanish contact with the Mayan civilization first occurred after Columbus in 1517. At that time, Cuban governor Diego Velzquez de Cullar, commissioned a fleet of three ships under the command of Hernndez de Cordoba to sail west and explore the Yucatn peninsula. Cordoba reached the coast of Yucatan where he first encountered the Mayans at Cape Catoche. However, this expedition was doomed to failure when the Mayans attacked and killed most of the explorers, including de Cordoba.

Two years later, in 1519 Hernn Corts arrived at Cozumel, where he recovered two survivors of a 1511 shipwreck, likely the result of a hurricane. One of the survivors, Gernimo de Aguilar had become quite fluent in Yucatec Maya as well as some other indigenous languages. Cortes came to rely on Aguilar’s translation abilities in his conquest of the Yucatan and the Aztec Empire.

In summary, there is ample justification for attributing the source of the word “hurricane” from either the Carib or the Mayan language. A written record of its first appearance in the Spanish language was not discovered and is left to future research.

Sources: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cariban_languages, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Huracan, http://www.Pantheon.org, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1492-1524_Atlantic_hurricane_seasons, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conquest_of_the_Aztec_Empire, “HURRICANE!” A Familiarization Booklet. NOAA 1993.