François Chollet @fchollet Deep learning @google. Creator of Keras, neural networks library. Author of 'Deep Learning with Python'. Opinions are my own. Oct. 13, 2019 1 min read

I had always assumed that the similarity between the Japanese word for "typhoon" (台風, pronounced "taifū") and the English and French versions (in French it's "typhon", pronounced "teefon") was accidental.

But is it? This word turns out to have a strange, thousand-year history

French "typhon" comes from Latin "typhon" (strong wind), itself from ancient greek Τυφῶν (tuphon). It enters the French vocabulary in the 16th century via the Portuguese word "tufão", brought back to Europe by Portuguese sailors who got it from South Asian or East Asia

It turns out that the greek word had previously made its way into Persian (tūfān) and from there, to Arabic and Hindi. It may have travelled as far east as Malaysia. And that's the word the Portuguese brought back.

Like genealogy, etymology isn't a tree -- it's a graph.

Meanwhile, China has the word 颱風 (táifēng) with basically the same meaning. Pronounced "taifung" in Cantonese. Which transferred to Japanese as 台風.

Did the Chinese word come from the Hindi & Arabic word, which itself came from Greek?

Can't say for sure, but it seems likely.

In conclusion: if you ever wonder where something comes from, the answer is usually "from 5th century BC Greece"

You can follow @fchollet.


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