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In astronomy we have the Aurora Australis in the south and the Aurora Borealis in the north. According to Wikipedia, auster is in fact the Latin equivalent of the Greek νότος, or southern wind. However, boreas is a Greek word, βορέας, not Latin! The Latin equivalent is aquilo. So, are the "southern lights" derived from a Latin word whereas the "northern lights" are derived from a Greek word? I can think of other places where auster/boreas are used as south/north. I find it unusual that this common pair would be derived from two different languages. How did this convention arise?

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    This is a basic etymological question, not really appropriate for this site. – JSBձոգչ Nov 30 '11 at 16:41
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    To say "boreas is a Greek word...not Latin! The Latin equivalent is aquilo" is an oversimplification. A language can have more than one name for something. E.g. alternatives to Aquilo were Aquilon and Septentrio. Indeed there was a Latin word borealis meaning 'northern.' – LarsH Dec 1 '11 at 20:43
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    A why question on etymology isn't really answerable. It just happened so. – jk - Reinstate Monica Aug 20 '15 at 9:47
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    @jknappen: Although I disagree with the assertion of your comment, I do want to say thank you for posting it. There is nothing more frustrating than having someone express displeasure with a question or answer but not give a reason. – dotancohen Aug 20 '15 at 10:52
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    As the old Classics master said: "Television - it's a mix of Latin and Greek roots. Mark my words: nothing good will come of it." – Roderick Ross Clyne Nov 20 '18 at 9:07
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The term "aurora borealis" was arguably first used by a French scientist Petrus Gassendus aka Pierre Gassendi in 1621, in his treatise "Physics." For further discussion, see Siscoe, George. 1986. An historical footnote on the origin of 'Aurora Borealis.' In History of geophysics, volume 2

The phenomenon itself has been known for a long time in Europe; for example, the ancient Greeks called it "blazing skies" or "flaming sky dragons" (Hesiod, Theogony).

The term "aurora australis" was arguably first used in 1741 (OED)

Notice that when those terms were coined, they were used as Latin words. In other words, the Latin word "borealis" was used, not the name of a Greek god.

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    I think the key here is that many words come from Greek via Latin. So when you ask "Is this word from Greek or Latin?" the answer is "both." For example, octopus. Probably the same for borealis. A Greek root can be borrowed directly into English in one case, and (the same root) borrowed via Latin in another case. – LarsH Dec 1 '11 at 20:33
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    Right, esp. if those words were made up much later and didn't exist in Latin or Greek. With the word "octopus", there is good reason to believe that it was borrowed into English as a Latin word: the plural is usually octopi (or octopuses), not octopodes. – Alex B. Dec 1 '11 at 20:55
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    I agree that octopus was borrowed into English via Latin; that's what I was trying to say, but may have been too terse. I'm surprised you say the plural is usually octopi. But let's not get off on that rabbit trail! english.stackexchange.com/questions/270/… – LarsH Dec 1 '11 at 21:24
  • I meant to say, the usual plural form in English is octopuses or octopi (choose either one), not octopodes. a nice video youtu.be/wFyY2mK8pxk – Alex B. Dec 1 '11 at 21:31
  • Your note of first usage is wrong according to nasa.gov/mission_pages/themis/auroras/aurora_history.html – prash Aug 21 '15 at 10:00
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They are both Latin, Aurora Borealis means "morning light coming from the north" and Aurora Australis means "morning light coming from the south". .

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Common sense guess: The northern lights have been known in the west for a much longer time than the southern lights. Maybe the ancient greeks themselves knew of it and named it. The southern lights were discovered (by the west), and thus named, much later, by people who had neither greek nor latin as their first language. Maybe they didn't see a problem in mixing greek and latin terms.

Notice how many of the older scientific terms for animals and plants are a mishmash of greek and latin (now they are a mishmash of just about anything). If following that tradition, a mix of greek and latin to describe another natural phenomenon is perfectly understandable.

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