Monday, September 15, 2008


Paul writes from Dover: “TV commentators discussing Hurricane Ike kept using the word landfall. I’m familiar with snowfall and rainfall, where the elements literally fall from the sky, but doesn’t a hurricane approach horizontally?”

Paul, if you ever have a chance to look up the word fall in an unabridged dictionary, be prepared to spend some time wading through details. The idea of gravity at work is primary, of course, but one of the subsequent meanings is, “to come upon or arrive.”

The original use of landfall referred to a ship arriving at a plotted course. We find this in 1627 in Captain Smith’s Seaman’s Grammar, ix. 43: “A good Land fall is when we fall iust with our reckoning, if otherwise a bad Land fall.”

When the Aviation Age arrived, the word was also applied to a plane arriving at land after a flight over the sea. (1908, H. G. Wells, War in Air, vi. 194: “New York had risen out of the blue indistinctness of the landfall.”) By 1974, landfall was also being applied to the place where an undersea pipeline reaches land.

SIDEBAR: Hurricane Ike

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

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