Word of the Week (163): ANVILTOP (probability 7617), by David Sutton

An ANVILTOP is a mass of cloud shaped like an anvil. The study, or at least the appreciation, of clouds has become quite fashionable lately, thanks in part to the success of Gavin Pretor-Pinney's enthusiastic popularisation of NEPHOLOGY, 'The Cloudspotter's Guide'. Sadly most cloud names are rather low probability so far as Scrabble is concerned. Those burdened with U's might just get to play CUMULUS (plural CUMULI) or FUMULUS (plural FUMULI), the former taking its name from Latin cumulus, a heap or pile and the latter being a type of thin smoky cloud (from Latin fumus, smoke). MAMMATUS (plural MAMMATI) is less likely: this is a type of cloud that looks a bit like a quilt or hummocky snowfield. But is is worth remembering FRACTUS (plural FRACTI), a ragged cloud and of course the better known CIRRUS (plural CIRRI), STRATUS (plural STRATI), a layered cloud, and NIMBUS (plural NIMBI or NIMBUSES), a rain cloud.

Then there is WOOLPACK, another name for cirrocumulus. I was hoping to add WATERDOG, but as the name of a small cloud whose appearance is said to betoken rain I can find it only as two words, and it appears to owe its presence in our lexicon to an American source that defines it as a kind of large salamander. But I suppose CALIMA might just qualify: this is really a dust cloud that spreads over southern Europe from the Sahara desert, causing heatwaves.

Finally let us mention ANTHELION, a luminous ring seen on a cloud opposite the sun, which yields the high probability plural ANTHELIA as well as ANTHELIONS.


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