It has become necessary to interrupt our relentless pursuit of definitive solutions to cosmic problems in order to excise a festering sore in today’s marine and weather journalism. It’s the burgeoning use of “nor’easter.”

There ain’t no such word.

For something that doesn’t exist, it’s sure as hell contagious: the Guy Gannett newspapers have George Mitchell riding home on a “nor’easter” to announce he won’t run; Commercial Fisheries News does its best to edit it out, but Skip Fleet (obviously a nom de plume for an unbankable fisherman) slipped one of them by a couple of issues back; National Fisherman’s March issue gets 99 percent of the way through a meticulous piece on water temperatures and then blows its cover eight lines from the end with “…severe nor’easters that have slammed the East Coast.” And then, heaven help us, even Working Waterfront carried “nor’easter” on its penultimate page this winter.

This has to stop.

Anybody old enough to be brought up on compass points rather than degrees knows that, if you have to, you can elide the western ones to “nowest” and “souwest,” but in the eastern quadrants, you must retain the “th’s” and pronounce them both with the “th” in breathe — northeast and southeast. You drop the “r” in northeast if you insist.

But if you drop the “th” you stand revealed — nay, exposed — as someone knowing little about the sea or as someone trying to be cute. If you need an example of this last, there’s a marine research newsletter from up Massachusetts way that actually calls itself “The Nor’Easter.” So now graduate students, an impressionable lot, will be infected and think it’s a pretty salty word for any breeze from NxE to ExN (and they won’t know what those mean either).

Don’t take our word for it, necessarily. W.W. Norton & Co., as his publisher, gives us permission to settle this one with an excerpt from the late G.W. Brace, a novelist with perfect pitch on nautical phrasing, as well as scrupulous regard for accuracy.

The quote is from The World of Carrick’s Cove (which may be out of print but shouldn’t be) and it’s Ben Carrick of Isle au Haut speaking: “Generally it was the northeasters that gave us the biggest blows … Every now and then I see the word set down as `noreaster,’ when anyone writes it that way you can tell he’s a landlubber. No seaman ever says `noreaster’ … We had to say the compass points a good deal in the old days so as there’d be no chance of a mistake, and the world had to be spoken `no-theast.” Anyone who tried to say `noreast’ or anything by `no-theast’ would likely get a kick in the pants.”

Okay, so you’ve got a GPS and SATNAV and a couple of LORANs and you haven’t had to say a compass point on board for the last 20 years — but you’re still not going to talk about a 45 degree blow, so please, you media guys, don’t give yourself away to your fishermen readers by using that abomination “nor’easter.”

Ed Myers
August 1994

Wind, Rain and Language–They did it again…a while back, as Maine experienced what we’ll probably come to know as the Patriot’s Day Storm, the newspaper reporters and radio and TV weatherpeople ganged up on the English language. It was predictable, of course: the storms properly known as “northeasters” have always seemed to stimulate the use of a certain contraction that, in turn, drives some of us nuts. Ed Myers, our late columnist from Walpole, was one such: he wrote the accompanying piece for Working Waterfront more than 10 years ago. If you want to know the correct terminology and why it’s important, read on. If you don’t care, stick with the rest of the media. We won’t hold it against you, but we’ll have to agree with Ed that you’ve marked yourself as a landlubber. — ed.