Today’s Wonder of the Day was inspired by Swara. Swara Wonders, “Why does wind make noise?” Thanks for WONDERing with us, Swara!
Do you look forward to the changing of the seasons? While some people love to enjoy warm weather and sunshine year-round, others prefer to see new leaves sprout, grow, and then fall to the ground as the seasons change.
As summer gives way to fall and fall slowly turns to winter, the leaves on the trees change colors, shrivel, and eventually let go of their branches to make the slow float to the ground below. On windy fall days, the rustling of the leaves seems almost musical.
Fall can be a magical time to hike in the forest. As the wind whistles through the pines and leaves crunch under your feet, your worries disappear for a time as you listen to the melodies of the wind in the trees.
These sounds of wind in the trees and the rustling of leaves have enchanted so many people over time that they invented a word to describe them: psithurism. Like many words that begin with "ps," the "p" at the beginning of psithurism is silent, and the word is pronounced sith-err-iz-um.
Psithurism comes from the Greek word psithuros, which means whispering. That certainly fits with the sound wind often makes when it blows through trees.
Psithurism has inspired many writers and poets over the ages. One tree in particular seems to have been a favorite of many naturalists when it comes to psithurism: the pine. Famous naturalist John Muir wrote that pines "are mighty waving golden-rods, ever in tune, singing and writing wind music all their long century lives."
American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow described psithurism in his poem "A Day of Sunshine":
I hear the wind among the trees
I see the branches downward bent,
Like keys of some great instrument.
Psithurism isn't the only word inspired by nature, however. The English language is full of terms created to try to capture the unique phenomena we experience in the natural world around us.
For example, have you ever gone outside right after it rains and experienced a distinctive, earthy smell? There's a name for that smell: petrichor. First used in 1964 by Australian researchers writing for Nature magazine, petrichor comes from the Greek words petros (stone) and ichor (the blood-like liquid found in the veins of the Greek gods).
If you're a fan of interesting words, there are many more examples to be found. Two more of our favorites are apricity (the warmth of the Sun in winter) and moonglade (the track of moonlight shining on water).