Sunday, September 28, 2008


Len from Chillicothe asked about the origin of the word blizzard.

The Weather Channel website tells us that the following requirements are necessary to speak of a blizzard:

• temperatures below 20 degrees Fahrenheit
• winds of 35 miles per hour or greater
• falling or blowing snow in the air that reduces visibility to ¼ mile or less
• a duration of at least 3 hours

Originally, blizzard meant a violent blow; then it came to mean an overwhelming argument. The first print instance cited by the Oxford English Dictionary appeared in 1829: “Blizzard: a violent blow.” [Virginia Lit. Museum, Dec. 16, 1829, p. 418]

By 1859, the transfer from a punch to a snow squall had been completed: “A blizzard had come upon us about midnight... Shot 7 horses that were so chilled could not get up.” [L. B. Wolf, Diary, Dec. 1, 1859, in Kansas Historical Quarterly (1932), I. 205]

Metaphorically, it has come to mean a flurry of activity or a superabundance: a blizzard of phone calls, a blizzard of spam.

SIDEBAR: All about winter storms

Now available from McFarland & Co.: Word Parts Dictionary, 2nd edition

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