What does harmattan mean?

Word count: 195 words

Reading time: Less than 1 minute

Increase your vocabulary and you’ll make your writing much more precise. That’s why I provide a word of the week. Today’s word: harmattan.

When I first encountered the word harmattan, while reading Will Ferguson’s compelling novel 419, I had no idea what it meant. But I knew my husband, would know.

Here is the sentence in which I found it:

The dry season had brought harmattan winds from the north-east that raked across the scrublands of the Sahel. 

Our resident expert in both anatomy and geography (he can name every bone in the human body and every river in the world), my husband didn’t disappoint. “It’s a dry and dusty west African trade wind,” he told me.  It blows from the end of November until the middle of March. The wind usually carries large amounts of dust, which it transports hundreds of kilometres out over the Atlantic Ocean.

Sadly, my etymological dictionary didn’t contain the word, but Wikipedia tells me that it’s Akan — the principal native language of Akan lands in Ghana, spoken by about 58% of the population in that country, and among 30% of the population of the Ivory Coast.

Don’t you love learning new words from other languages?

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