Saturday, September 23, 2006

Defining the Wind

I enjoyed this book thoroughly, especially its gorgeously-written first chapter about riding out a hurricane (before Katrina). It is a copy-editor's book, written by a former copy editor, so its focus on words may be too much for some people. Still, the story is intriguing enough to keep non-word-o-philes (copy editors are cringing right now) entertained. The book explains how a description of the wind that was created during the sea-faring age, at least partly as an aid to navigation, took on a life of its own and became a kind of poem, now found only in some dictionaries. I was first introduced to the Beaufort wind scale in a modern poetry class as a "found poem," and it is truly poetry -- both concrete and abstract, both physical and spiritual. The scale also has a history of its own, and this book lovingly traces that history. The analysis of the changes over time to the actual scale itself is interesting, but the most interesting fact may be that this little nugget of fine language has survived at all into the 21st century. It is really a miracle, and this book captures that miracle. I almost wish our news reports would use this scale instead of the exact figures they purport to give us, but that might cheapen the value of the words themselves. The words are the treasure. Look in your dictionary at home under "Beaufort" to see if the wind scale is there. Many no longer have it.
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