Naming a Cyclone

Hello and welcome to another episode of Koz Anglais.

Here I am at Meteo France. I’ve just completed a week’s session with the WMO, which is the UN branch of the World Meteorological Organization. Every two years they have a meeting, region by region. We are in the region of Africa, so here present in the room that you can see behind me, we had delegates from Botswana, Mozambique, Tanzania, Mauritius, Madagascar, Comoros, Swaziland, South Africa, Reunion of course and even Australia paid a visit.

It was a very interesting session with lots of different things discussed, both technically and operationally – we learned a lot about cyclones, I can assure you!

The media came in, and their one question was of course about the naming of the cyclones. “Have we named the cyclones for the next coming few years?” And the answer was ‘yes’, but there were some interesting problems that arose during the choosing of the names.

For the first fourteen letters of the alphabet, more or less, they have to find new names every year – the second part of the alphabet they simply recycle names from the past. But there was the delegate from Zimbabwe who said that one of the names proposed by Botswana, unfortunately, I think the name was Cyclone KUFA, he said “we can’t have that because in Kiswahili, ‘KUFA’ means ‘die’, and you can’t have a cyclone called ‘die’”.

So the representatives from the WMO spoke up, saying “this is happening more and more. We’ve noted in the Caribbean there’s a very traditional name for cyclones called ISIS,” which is of course the name for the Islamic State in Syria. So they have to be very careful about choosing names which don’t cause problems or controversy in the different countries.

Then the other members started to pipe up – the member from Botswana said “We can’t have ‘IAN’ as a cyclone, because that’s the name of our President at the moment!” There was some laughter from that. And then the representative from Mauritius said “Hang on, you’re right! We can’t have AMEENAH, because that is also a presidential name.” But the funniest was the delegate from Madagascar who said “I apologise for being coarse, but the name ‘ITAY’ in Madagascar is a bit vulgar.” She was asked to explain this, and she said “well, ‘I’ means ‘this’ in Malagasy, and ‘TAY’ means ‘shit’”, so there was me interpreting at a UN conference and I had to say the words ‘this shit’ in English! It was quite a moment for me!

Anyway, that’s the end of this podcast. Don’t forget to come back regularly to – see you soon!


session = séance
delegates = délégués
arose = survenu
unfortunately = malheureusement

careful = prudent
to pipe up = prendre la parole
laughter = rire
coarse = vulgaire

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