Week sixty-nine: BARCHAN (probability 25862), by David Sutton

A BARCHAN is a crescent-shaped sand-dune; it has variants BARCHANE, BARKAN and BARKHAN, such as is found in Central Asian deserts. The name comes from a native Turkmenistan word. A long sand-dune lying parallel to the direction of the wind that forms it is called a SEIF dune; this comes from the Arabic saif meaning sword.

The vocabulary of deserts is well worth a look. There is CALICHE, for example, gravel, sand, or desert debris cemented by calcium carbonate, an accumulated product of chemical weathering in a dry climate; this is also known as DURICRUST. Desert animals include the FENNEC, a kind of fox with big ears, also known as the ZERDA, the CARACAL or desert lynx, and of course the well-known GERBIL, GERBILLE or JERBIL and the JERBOA. Desert plants include the PALOVERDE, the RETEM or RETAMA, the JOJOBA and the SOTOL, all of which are XEROPHYTES or XEROMORPHS, plants adapted to dry conditions. And then there are the desert winds: the SAMIEL, SHAMAL or SHIMAAL, and the SIMOOM or SIMOON.

Finally, the general epithet for things associated with deserts is DESERTIC or EREMIC, the latter from Greek eremia, desert or solitude, which is why the early Christians who went off to live in deserts for a bit of peace and quiet were called EREMITES.


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