#WordOfTheWeek: Pluviophile

Aah. The sound of rain. Is there anything more inviting for a book lover but a rainy day to stay home, cozy it up with a warm blanket, a hot cup of cocoa, a candlelit ambiance and a book. Sadly, as we enter Spring, we’re saying goodbye to the rainy season to make way for adventure, nature and sunlight. In light of this, let’s look at a word that describes what we are: pluviophile.

Anne Uhmeyer
Word of the Week

Pluviophile [ˈplu vi əˌfaɪl ] is a relatively new word in the English language, first attested in the 1990s, and it provides a fascinating glimpse into the ways that history, science, and social priorities can all converge in how we choose to express ourselves. It is also a wonderful reminder of the ever-changing nature of language due to its current status as a neologism – a newly created word. All words were new at one time or another; tracing the history of pluviophile shows us our own creativity and influences when it comes to coining words for new concepts and previously unfulfilled linguistic needs.

What is a Pluviophile?

The individual elements of pluviophile come from Greek and Latin roots. The suffix -phile, from the Greek philos meaning “lover of” or “enthusiast for,” is fairly familiar to English speakers from its use in words like bibliophile (book lover) and Francophile (enthusiast for French culture/language).

A close-up shot of a hand catching raindrop.
Photo Credit: Pexels

The prefix pluvio- comes from the Latin pluviosus or pluvia denoting “rain.” Thus, a pluviophile is someone who loves or has enthusiasm for the rain. It is also sometimes used in the context of biology to describe organisms that thrive in rainy climates (such as mushrooms).

Mashups for Science: Combining Greek and Latin Roots for Scientific Advancement

The practice of combining Greek and/or Latin roots to create words for describing the world around us originated in the 18th century with Carl Linneaus, a Swedish biologist and physician who created the (usually) Latin binomial nomenclature that is now commonly used for classifying and organizing animal and plant species. At the time, Latin was considered the language of science since highly educated people could all read and write Latin in addition to their native tongues, allowing scientific information to be shared more broadly across linguistic and geographical borders.

A side-view photo of a cougar.
Photo Credit: Pexels

Linneaus’ concept for creating binomial nomenclature based on the genus and species of plants and animals helped ensure that research was not hindered due to colloquial names for specimens, which could differ across languages or even regions within a single country. For example; the cougar, a large cat native to the American continents, is also known in English as the puma, mountain lion, catamount, or panther depending on the regional origins of the speaker. By assigning the nomenclature Puma concolor, scientists could avoid confusion by ensuring that they were discussing the same species no matter the colloquial name familiar to the individuals involved. Linneaus himself coined hundreds of scientific names, including homo sapiens (wise human) to describe modern humans in contrast to humans at earlier evolutionary stages such as homo erectus (upright human).

The introduction and adoption of the binomial nomenclature convention in scientific circles created a linguistic prestige for the construction; using a word created from Greek and Latin roots made the speaker sound more educated and therefore of a higher social status, so the practice broadened fairly quickly to areas outside of strict biological study, including other scientific and psychological fields as well as general society, prompting the creation of words like bibliophile (first attested in 1824 and formed from the Greek biblion “book” and philos “loving”) and claustrophobia (coined in 1879 from the Latin claustrum for a confined or closed space, and phobia “fear”).

As scientific studies progressed through the following centuries, more and more of these kinds of neologisms appeared in languages across the world. Fun fact: neologism is a self-referential example;  *neo-*from Greek meaning “new” and logos also from Greek meaning “speech, utterance” to form neologism with the meaning of “a newly formed word”, coined in the late 18th century after the introduction of Linneaus’ binomial nomenclature. Arachnophobia, pyromania, schizophrenia, and agoraphobia are older examples that have become established words in our English lexicon.

The New New Words: Evocative Slang

Modern neologisms include meme, clickbait, hangry, gaslighting, phishing, and many other words for concepts that have not previously existed or been discussed. Many modern neologisms like pluviophile, fomosapien, sapiosexual, and orthorexia still follow the convention of using Greek and Latin roots to create new words. These words recall Linneaus’ original constructions in order to carry the linguistic prestige implying a highly educated speaker, which has lingered around the form due to the widespread adoption of Linneaus’ construction concept in scientific, psychological, and other highly educated fields. We use words like pluviophile when we want to sound cultured, suave, and intelligent in a way that doesn’t come across the same in a simpler sentence like, “I love the rain.”

A photo of a female standing on a rainy road holding an umbrella. Her left hand was trying to catch a raindrop.
Photo Credit: Pexels

Neologisms take time to become an established word in the lexicon of a language, which is why we often do not find them in dictionaries until decades after they are coined. For pluviophile, Urban Dictionary (urbandictionary.com) lists it in the site’s characteristically sarcastic way, but the Oxford English Dictionary makes no mention of it, and other dictionaries have the word under review. And yet the word is a testament to the ongoing success of incorporating new words and ideas into the language considering the number of blogs and social sites that mention it and make use of it, so it can be assumed it will be added to future editions of various dictionaries soon.

In the meantime, we can marvel at the ease with which we construct and comprehend new words, the ever-changing landscape of the English language, and the common human experience that pushed us to make a fancy word for our weather-specific appreciation of the world around us. Now go splash in a puddle!

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