(9 February 2004)
A reader who prefers to remain anonymous tells me that "sastruga" comes from the Russian word "zastruga," meaning "groove." (I have got to get a decent dictionary; I oughtn't to have to ask readers about etymologies.)
Treesong confirms that the source of "sastruga" is Russian and adds that the plural is "zastrugi," which sounds to me like an entrée but I guess nobody asked my opinion.
Christine Perkins, a reference librarian, writes that "a patron ... asked ... if there is actually a wind called Maria. (She saw Paint Your Wagon and was curious.)" I have no idea why the song uses that phrase, and no idea whether there really was a wind called Maria; the librarians have checked lots of sources to no avail. Any readers with ideas, please let me know.
Over the years, this has been one of the most commented-on columns; lots of people link to and send comments and questions. I usually can't answer the questions; I'm not an expert on wind or weather, I just like the words. But you may be able to find useful information on the Golden Gate Weather Services Names of Winds page, incorporating some info from my column and lots of info from other sources.
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