Friday, August 21, 2009

Packing and Churning

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This morning as I read a news story about Hurricane Bill, I noticed for the zillionth time how often reporters use the same old language to write about hurricanes. Hurricanes seem always to churn across the Atlantic, and they are always packing winds. It makes me think of a butter churn with a sidearm.

Out of curiosity, I ran a search in Google just to see what would turn up:

"Hurricane Bill" churn OR churning OR churned OR churns

The result? When I looked this morning, limiting the search to the past week, about 230,000 items containing these terms had been posted to the Internet (that includes news, blogs, general sites…everything). Because I had limited the search by date, it’s a good bet that nearly all of these hits are about this particular storm.

A similar search yielded 130,000 items that described the hurricane as “packing” winds of various sorts:

"Hurricane Bill" winds pack OR packing OR packed OR packs

Now, churn is a good word to describe the intense, destructive rotation of the storm. But there must be other words we can use to describe how hurricanes move. If we want to mark its rotating action, we could say that a hurricane whirls, or twirls, or spins. (OK, whirl and twirl are a little silly; one doesn’t want to visualize a hurricane in a tutu.) If we want to emphasize its destructive and stormy nature, we could say it howls, screams, or rampages. In the case of a fast-moving storm, we could say that it races, or courses, or gallops, or speeds. Or, we could just say that it travels, moves, progresses, or advances. These are perfectly adequate, if less dramatic.

How could we describe the high-velocity winds? If one can't find a word other than packing, then just stating the wind speed will make an impression.

Here’s a sample of plain writing:

With sustained winds of 125 mph, Hurricane Bill is moving NNW at 30 mph, and is expected to reach Neverland by 9:00 this evening.
I don’t mind hearing once in a while that a hurricane is packing and churning. But after decades of hearing the same tired language trotted out at the beginning of the hurricane season and used over and over until November 1…. Well, it will be a relief to hear about the deadly, massive, winter storms that will come howling down to batter New England this winter. If the news stories are correct, we’ll stock up, batten down, hole up, and, of course, dig out.

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