#MeteorWatchDay – We delve into etymology behind this astronomical event

June 30 this year has been designated Meteor Watch Day, and people are encouraged to look out for spectacular bursts of light in the sky caused by small pieces of rock or metal burning up when they enter the earth’s atmosphere from space. These objects get their name from the Greek word ‘meteoros’, which literally means ‘raised up from the ground’. The Greeks referred to the stars and planets they observed suspended in the sky as ‘ta meteora’ (‘things that are raised up’), and the study of these heavenly bodies was called ‘meteorologia’.

When the word ‘meteor’ as first used in English, in the fifteenth century, it had a much broader use than it does today. At that time it could be applied to any phenomenon that people observed in the sky, including clouds, lightning, and rainbows, and not just the ‘shooting stars’ that we call meteors today. That is why the word ‘meteorology’ is used as the name for the study of the atmospheric processes that give rise to our weather, and why people who study the weather are called ‘meteorologists’.

Besides giving us a long name for a weather forecaster, the word ‘meteor’ is also responsible for one of our common metaphors: when a person comes from nowhere to achieve sudden and enormous success, we can compare this to the way that meteors shoot through the sky with their spectacular bursts of light, and so we describe the person’s progress as a ‘meteoric’ rise to fame.

By Ian Brookes
Collins Dictionary

Other Articles

Your essential guide to World Cup vocabulary

The weather outside is frightful, but for football fans the most delightful time of the year is upon us – admittedly a few months later than usual – as the 2022 World Cup kicks off in Qatar this November. First played in 1930, the World Cup is an international association… Read More

Pop Goes the Weasel: the magical language of nursery rhymes

When we are ickle, words can cast magic spells. Think Rain, rain, go away.Come again another day. And when we are small, each new word unlocks a new world of experience. “What’s a weasel, Dad?” When we are tiny, nursery rhymes do both. *** And they… Read More

Soggy bottoms & baps: the proven glossary of The Great British Bake Off

With over 4 million viewers weekly, The Great British Bake Off (GBBO) is a great British institution, famous for baked Alaska controversies and the Paul Hollywood handshake. It also has its fair share of risqué innuendos, giving us a delightful range of soggy bottoms, baps and spotted dicks to keep… Read More