A mackerel sky

MackerelI was inspired to write this post by a visit to the archives of the Met Office in Exeter. The collections hold some absolutely fantastic items, including a printed proclamation issued by Charles II in the mid-1660s ordering a day of fasting and prayer in an attempt to stop the terrible deluge of rain the kingdom was experiencing (which, following the wettest winter on record in the UK, certainly struck a chord with me). As you might expect, Hooke and his Royal Society colleagues were extremely interested in the weather. Hooke and Christopher Wren invented instruments to measure and record weather conditions, and Hooke and a host of natural philosophers across Europe kept detailed weather diaries, sometimes spanning decades. Hooke himself wrote a series of instructions about how best to do this. As well as recording temperature, wind direction and strength, and so on, Hooke suggested that weather-observers note the ‘Constitution & face of the Sky’ as well as any other notable features such as any ‘haloes or Rings’ that might encircle the sun or moon. One problem, though, was the lack of a standard set of descriptions for cloud formations. So Hooke set about creating his own classification scheme.

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Door-mats and penumbras: Hooke’s contributions to the English Language

One of the many fascinations of the online Oxford English Dictionary is the list of most frequent contributors – those whose writing has provided the compilers with the first evidence of words, first evidence of a particular meaning, and total number of quotations.* We all know that Shakespeare coined a huge number of words (1582, according to OED), and it stands to reason that the Bible, the Philosophical Transactions and the Times also appear near the top of the list. But what of our favorite Restoration natural philosopher, Robert Hooke? He appears at number 802 in the list of the top 1000 most frequently quoted sources, with most of these citations coming from Micrographia. His writings provide the first evidence for 68 words, and the first evidence of particular meanings for 240 words. So, have you used one of Hooke’s words today? The full list is below.

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