To the editor:

I find the discussion of northeaster versus nor’easter (WWF May 2007) bordering on the fatuous. To charge those who use the contraction as ignorant of compass points and thus landlubbers is sea going snobbery. The contraction has nothing to do with directions to a helmsman.

“Put her on north by east a quarter east, Fred.” Nor’easter is a pronounceable term for a storm, a term that has a place in an evolving language.

Blame not the media for erring. They rely on dictionaries, and nor’easter is listed as acceptable by Webster, Random House and Oxford.

Stephen Hinrichs


To the editor:

Okay, okay, I will say only northeaster to avoid being called a landlubber. I may write it as “no’theaster” to convey a Maine pronunciation. Howsomever, while the word nor’easter did “not exist” for Ed Myers in 1994, he was bucking history, as reflected in at least six dictionaries published from 1945 through 1998: three Webster’s, two Random House and one Oxford.

A 1945 Webster’s defined “nor” with or without an apostrophe after it as “abbreviation of north, especially in compounds.” Oxford, 1959, attributed “nor'” for “north” to Middle English. By 1967, “nor’easter” was an entry in Random House, defined as “northeaster.” All editions agreed upon 1774 as the first date in print for “northeaster.” The 1998 Random House Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary gives 1830 as the first-in-print date for nor’easter. There must have been some landlubbers around to knock out the “th” in those intervening 56 years.

Ed Myers insisted on pronouncing the “th” as in `breathe,” but even when the syllables changed in dictionaries for awhile, from “north-easter” to “nor-theaster,” the “th” remained as in “breath,” not as in “breathe.”

The color cartoon was great: the wife looks at framed photos as she says, “They never visit!. Not for Thanksgiving, nor Christmas nor Easter!” and her husband, reading the paper, thinks, “Now, that’s correct.” The grammar was not correct, though, in modern usage. “Nor” in each case should be “or,” following “not.” The rule, in Gregg’s Reference Manual, 2005, is “Do not use nor in the same clause with any other negative, e.g., has not called or written.” The usage in the cartoon is Archaic, according to the Oxford Dictionary, which provides an example from Edmund Spenser (1552-1599): “She could not heare, nor speake, nor understand.” Perhaps this double negative just remained in use in Maine, where many other words and phrases have defied extinction — like Nor’easter.

Byrna Porter Weir

Rochester, New York

To the editor:

…I particularly enjoyed the piece by Ed Myers this month, about the abominable “nor’easter.” I never met him, but he used to advise a friend of mine, Bill Haney, on his Pine Tree Society fund-raising letters. Bill admired him tremendously. Thank you for what you and your coworkers put out every month.

James Cowie

Munjoy Hill, Portland