Here’s why you have to be careful……

I remember in the 60s or so reading about this new phenomenon of dirty air hanging over our cities. A new term had been coined, “smog”, clearly a combination of smoke and fog. It made sense.

Then I read a couple of days ago that the first attested form appeared in London in 1905. Wow! But, again, it made sense: London fog combined with smoke to make a new word.

But then….. I read this on my Lowlands Languages listserv:

Just some explanation about ’smuken’ in Western Flemish:

smuik / smuuk ( smuyck) = dichte mist / smoor
E: (thick) fog
smuiken / smuken  (smuikte, gesmuikt) ook smokelen = sterk smoren, stofregenen
E: drizzling rain
smoken (smokte, gesmokt) = domen, dampen, roken
E: to steam, smoke, fume
smokelen = smoken, roken
E: to steam, fume

Flemish, like Dutch, Frisian, Scots, and other dialects, forms part of a continuum of low country dialects of West Germanic, the North Sea dialects. So here’s a clear cognate of smog appearing in a closely related language but surely antedating the dirty air of polluted cities. London had pollution in the 19th century, so it makes sense (be careful!) that “smuuk” or some such form would be introduced, perhaps from a dialect, to label this weather phenomenon. But it still needs attestation.

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