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Richard Walker

Somewhere over the rainbow

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Speaking of rain I saw this rainbow this other day. Although rainbows are a familiar sight, when one appeared all the people around me were quite excited, and I was too.


This got me wondering what rainbows are called in other languages. Is the name a compound, similar to the English rain+bow? On a quick look I found some where it was, and one or two rather different. 

German is regen-bogen, evidently cognate with the English. Old English had regnboga, also very close, but it also had scurboga, and recalling that "sc" in Old English was pronounced as "sh" this would be shower-bow, which rather sadly is now lost. I think we shyould bring it back.

In French we have arc-en-ciel, "arc in the sky", so no reference to rain. Italian is arco baleno, which I think means something like "arc-flash", so that's a bit different, but still has the bow theme.

Latin was iris, borrowed from Ancient Greek I think. Iris was personification of the rainbows. Her name may have originally been Wiris, starting with the archaic digamma, a letter lost in later Greek.

Modern Greek has a different word from Ancient Greek and it baffled me at first, ourano toxo. But after some head-scratching I recalled that Uranus was the personification of the sky and toxo means bow (as in toxophilite, one who likes archery, and the word archer must also be related to arcs/bows). So the Greek expresses the same idea as the French arc-en-ciel.

The last one I looked at was Welsh, which has enfys. The etymology of this is trickier. The en- bit could be an "intensifier", a prefix that adds some kind of emphasis to the following element, and the fys part could be connected to finger or ring, so the origin might have been something like great ring.

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Richard Walker

On Crossing the Rainbow Bridge (June 2016)

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I'm frightened of crossing the rainbow bridge.

Will someone help me down

On the other side?

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Richard Walker

Sun dog

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Edited by Richard Walker, Wednesday, 17 Mar 2010, 18:55

Here is a 'sun dog' I saw yesterday evening.  The sun itself is just off to the left of the picture.  The sun dog is the bright feature in the middle.

These sun dogs appear when sunlight is refracted through hexagonal ice crystals which act as prisms.  They are quite common - much more frequent than rainbows for example - but usually people aren't looking out for them so they get missed.

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Richard Walker

Spectrum and Sky

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We all know the rainbow, which is the result of sunlight (or any other light) bouncing around inside a raindrop.  The different colours return at different angles and so we see the coloured bands, like light shining through a prism.

Sunlight may also bounce round inside tiny prisms of ice.  These of course are six-sided, like snowflakes.  This can produce many different sky effects and where I live -- Cambridge UK -- the one called 'sun dogs' is quite common, in fact much more frequent than rainbows.

Most people have never seen them though, because they don't know where or when to look.

Once you have seen a thing you will probably see it again many times, even if you never previously knew it existed.  Learning makes us more aware.

Visit this site and you can find out more.  The evening sun dogs are the ones I have often seen.

Sadly there are no sun cats.

 

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