In ancient times, Greeks must have been the scientists of the world. Perhaps the Greeks were the first with an alphabet – you know, alpha, beta, delta, lambda and the rest, on down to omega. These Greek letters were the precursor of the alphabet we are using today. Once Greeks had an alphabet, they were the first to be able to write about science stuff. Even in modern times, other than rocket science and a few other special fields of studies, many branches of science are called “ology,” as in biology, cardiology and others.
The “ology” part of those names derives from the Greek word “logy” which means, “the study of.” Biology is the combination of the Greek word “bio” meaning life with “logy” – bingo, the study of life. Mythologists study myths. Sociologists study societies. Virologists study viruses. There are dozens of others including meteorologists.
If an oceanologist studies oceans and a toxicologist studies toxic substances, wouldn’t it make sense that a meteorologist would study meteors?
Meteors are space rocks (sized somewhere between the size of a grain of sand up to roughly the size of a car), which fall from space and enter the Earth’s atmosphere. (While they are still drifting through space these rocks are called meteoroids and if they actually land on Earth instead of burning up in the atmosphere they become meteorites.)
About five tons of meteors enter the Earth’s atmosphere each day. Most are sand to pebble sized pieces that burn up quickly and are often visible as “shooting stars” at night. A few make it all the way to the ground or ocean doing little more than making a small thump or splash. Every once in a while a meteor actually falls and hits something and even more rarely, someone. Sixty-five million years ago one pounded down from the sky and snuffed out all the dinosaurs on Earth. Take a look at the moon – all those craters came from meteor and asteroid strikes. (Asteroids are meteoroids larger than a car.)
With this amount of space rocks falling on Earth – or the moon – or potentially whacking into orbiting satellites, is it any wonder there are nearly 10,000 meteorologists currently working in the USA and nearly 1,000 newly graduated meteorologists are minted at American colleges and universities annually?
Wait a second, meteorologists don’t study meteors, meteoroids or meteorites. They study the weather. A meteorologist is a weatherman (or weather-woman). More than a third of all of them work for the National Weather Service.
So why are weather-persons called meteorologists? Ask an etymologist – a person who studies “etymon” which is Greek meaning “origin of a word.” In Greek, a meteor isn’t a space rock. Meteor roughly translates into “things that come from the sky.”
I suppose in Greek that includes falling space rocks, but also rain, sleet, fog, wind and other atmospheric phenomenon. Maybe if they were called rainologists or weatherologists, they’d be better at telling me if tomorrow would be a good day to go fishing.
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