I’ve been thinking about weather words this week (I have plans afoot for a book on the subject) so I chose one of my favourites to discuss today — zephyr. A zephyr is a gentle breeze (historically it was also a light cotton gingham, ideal for spring dresses). Not a word you use everyday but rather fun to use. Living by the coast I’m more likely to encounter gales than zephyrs but they are delightful when they arrive.
Where do we get such an unusual word from? Zephyr entered English in the mid 1300s from the Old English word Zefferus which came from Zephyrus in Latin and ultimately from Zephyros in Greek. Zephyros was the west wind and possibly related to zophos which described the west itself as a dark region filled with gloomy darkness. Not something you’d find in a tourist brochure.
However the Greek link yields far more information as those ancient Greeks loved to ascribe a god connection to nearly everything in their world so, of course, they had a god of the west wind.
Zephyrus, the god of the west wind, was one of the four Anemoi — one wind god for each major compass point. His brothers were Boreas (north wind and source of our aurora borealis of course), Notos (south), and Eurus (east, not the source of Europe, despite the similar spelling).
Zephyrus brought the milder west winds to Greece which heralded the growing season and hence he was venerated as the god of spring, a beneficial member of their pantheon. He was usually depicted as either a horse racing with the winds or as a handsome youth. In the later form he fell for a Spartan youth called Hyacinth but the young lad preferred Apollo and Zephyrus in a jealous rage caused a thrown discus to veer astray in the wind, hit Hyacinth, and kill him. The flowers of that name are said to have sprung from the blood of the slain lover.
Zephyrus did find love in the end though as he made a nymph called Cloris his wife. She became the Greek goddess of flowers and spring, the equivalent of Flora in the Roman pantheon.
If you get a chance to spend time outdoors this week and a gentle breeze passes by, remember Zephyrus and duck if any frisbees head your way.
Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,
Books about word history https://wordfoolery.wordpress.com/my-books/)
Revised for Medium, but originally published at http://wordfoolery.wordpress.com on April 19, 2021.