on blizzards and infixes

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Thu Feb 14 16:12:18 UTC 2013

Now that we've (mostly) (been) shoveled and/or plowed out, we can contemplate the origin of "blizzard", which does not, in fact, contain the infix that Victor and Ben were just analyzing.  That is, I'm afraid "blizzard" is not to "blard" (< bacon + lard?) as "sizzurp" is to "syrup".

Here's the OED on its etymology:

A modern word, probably more or less onomatopoeic; suggestive words are blow , blast , blister , bluster : the French blesser to wound, has also been conjectured, but there is nothing to indicate a French origin. As applied to a ‘snow-squall,’ the word became general in the American newspapers during the severe winter of 1880–81; but according to the Milwaukee Republican 4 Mar. 1881, it had been so applied in the Northern Vindicator (Estherville, Iowa) between 1860 and 1870. It was apparently in colloquial use in the West much earlier; but whether Col. Crockett's use of it in 1834 (sense 1) was figurative, taken from the stifling blast, or was the earlier sense, and subseq. transferred to the blast, is not determined.

"Col. [Davy] Crockett's use", which falls under sense 1--
 1. A sharp blow or knock; a shot. Also fig. U.S.,
--alludes to this passage:

1834   D. Crockett Acct. Col. Crockett's Tour 16   A gentleman at dinner asked me for a toast; and supposing he meant to have some fun at my expense, I concluded to go ahead, and give him and his likes a blizzard.

(Sounds more like a drink than a figurative blow, but probably not the kind DQ sells.)

Our Nemo-type blizzard comes in sense 2--

2. A furious blast of frost-wind and blinding snow, in which man and beast frequently perish; a ‘snow-squall’. Also attrib. and Comb. orig. U.S.

--with a first hit from Kansas:

1859   L. B. Wolf Diary 1 Dec. in Kansas Hist. Q. (1932) I. 205   A blizzard had come upon us about midnight... Shot 7 horses that were so chilled could not get up.

I love the "in which man and beast frequently perish" part of the definiens.


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