(Note: Back in November of 2013, TaxoDiary published the post “A Cloud Drifting Toward a Classification“, about the cloud formation tentatively labeled as Asperatus undulatus and the quest to achieve an official classification for it. The article below, which first appeared in the Apalachicola Times on April 8, 2015, focuses on matters of terminology concerning the same cloud, from the viewpoint of a scholar of ancient Latin language and literature. Republished by kind permission of the Apalachicola Times, which holds all rights to the article.)


The cloud’s name would be undulatus asperatus, Latin for “wave-like (and) rough.”– ALLEN GATHMAN

As locals and visitors alike will attest, all the Apalach/St. George Island folk are strong and good-looking, the children are above average, and there’s rarely a cloud in the sky.

Yet just when it seemed Ecclesiastes was right to observe there’s “nothing new under the sun” (nihil sub sole novum, as in “nihilist,” “solar,” and “novelty”), cloud buffs and cooperating scientists believe they’ve identified a previously unclassified cloud type – the first since 1951 – a variant of the undulatus class they are proposing to call undulatus asperatus, Latin for “wave-like (and) rough.” There’re lots of photos at the Cloud Appreciation Society (CAS) website at cloudappreciationsociety.org (search on asperatus then undulatus) and a compilation of videos on YouTube (search “undulatus asperatus compilation”).

Gavin Pretor-Pinney, founder of the CAS, resourcefully tapped into the mother tongue for the name of the cloud formation, which he and Graeme Anderson, a meteorologist assisting his research, hope to have officially recognized by the United Nations World Meteorological Organization (WMO) this year or next. Undulatus, like English “UNDulate,” means to “move like ocean waves,” from the noun unda/“wave.” That same root word gives us “redUNDant,” a synonym of “repetitive,” which, once you know this bit of Latin, evokes an image of waves breaking again and again (re-), REpeatedly, against the shore and sending the sand crabs skittering. The root of asperatus appears in “exASPERate,” literally “to roughen” but commonly (as when your spouse describes your mannerisms!) meaning “to irritate, annoy, anger.” You might also know the noun “ASPERity,” meaning roughness – of touch, of climate, or of a person’s behavior. Vergil in his first century B.C. epic poem the Aeneid used the phrase asperat undas of a wintry storm at sea that “makes the waves rough.”

The Latin word for clouds in general is nubes, and the Romans called the centaurs nubigenae, “cloud-born” (from gen-, “to beget,” as in “GENerate” and “proGENitor”), since the murderous Ixion had seduced a cloud-image of the goddess Hera, enGENdering a deformed son Centauros, who later mated with a group of mares and sired those mythic man-horse critters! A rain-cloud specifically is a nimbus, which gives us “cumuloNIMBUS” for those menacing, heaped up, towering clouds that can signal a coming rainstorm or hail: Latincumulus is a “heap” and to “acCUMULate” is to pile things up–like the little mounds of sand those tiny sand crabs often kick up round their holes along the St. George shoreline. “Cumulonimbus” was originally called “Cloud Nine” in the inaugural edition of the WMO’s International Cloud Atlas, published in 1896; that work’s title likely influenced the name of a series of piano compositions by Yoko Ono’s first husband, Toshi Ichiyanagi, whose music in turn inspired the title of David Mitchell’s sci-fi novel “Cloud Atlas” and its 2012 film adaptation.

Here’s wishing you a euphoric, not rainy, Cloud Nine day, and may all yournubes be lined with silver (argentum, chemical symbol AG). As for me, I’m heading down to Water Street in quest of crab cakes, and as I slather them with remoulade I’ll try not to think of their crustacean brethren frolicking on the cloudless beaches of St. George Island.

By Rick LaFleur

Rick LaFleur is retired from 40 years of teaching Latin language and literature at the University of Georgia, which during his tenure there came to have the largest Latin enrollment of all of the nation’s colleges and universities; he is not quite sure whether he loves Latin or Apalachicola more.